Thursday, July 19, 2007

The 18th

A few of the names I can remember without Googling: Sam Houston. "Pappy" O'Daniel. Lyndon Johnson. Price Daniel. Ralph Yarborough. Lloyd Bentsen.

John Tower. Phil Gramm. The current occupants, Senator Perjury Technicality and Senator Box Turtle.

Dave McNeely, whose columns appear syndicated throughout the state, has more. Excerpted in full; emphasis mine:

If you sit around wondering how many Texans have sat in the United States Senate in the 91 years since senators began being selected by popular elections in 1916, the answer is 17. State Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, in the 2008 election would like to be chosen as the 18th.

Jabbing at the Republican incumbent, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, as a "cheerleader" for the administration of President George W. Bush "for a variety of failed policies," Noriega said a change in representation is necessary to bring a change in direction.

"A lot of the problem we see today is (that) stubbornness is not a foreign policy," Noriega said.

Noriega, a sturdy 49-year-old legislator who has worked in educational administration, on Monday announced formation of an exploratory committee at a press conference on the state capitol's front lawn.

Noriega, with buzz-cut hair and an erect military bearing, chose a backdrop of the memorial to those who died at the Alamo, to underline his 26 years in the armed services, including a stint in Afghanistan with the Texas Army National Guard.

"Growing up in Houston, my family taught me the importance of serving my community," Noriega said in a prepared statement. "I've been privileged to serve this country as a soldier, my state as an elected representative, and Houston as a community leader focused on education. The call to service has been a big part of my life, and I am taking the next step in answering that call."

"Standing in the shadows of this monument, I'm reminded of our state's great tradition and our duty to speak out when things have gone off the rails," Noriega said. "Today, our nation is headed in the wrong direction, led by those whose choice is to divide Americans to maintain power.

"They ignore the will of the people about the war in Iraq. They ignore the needs of the people for health care, college education, and a better standard of living. They ignore the lessons of our history: that America's strength lies in our unity and diversity.

"John Cornyn represents the worst of these trends," Noriega said. "And it's time for him to go."

Noriega rose to lieutenant colonel while training Afghan troops. Asked what he would do about the war in Iraq, Noriega said he would follow the withdrawal timetable laid out by the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former President Bush's Secretary of State, James Baker.

Noriega's wife Melissa, who sat in for him in the Texas House of Representatives while he was in Afghanistan, was elected June 16 to the Houston City Council. After he returned, Noriega was tapped to run a National Guard border security operation, and then by Houston Mayor Bill White to coordinate relief for refugees from Hurricane Katrina who fled to Houston.

Though Noriega took aim in his press conference at Cornyn, his first major hurdle is Democrat Mikal Watts, a wealthy plaintiff's attorney from Corpus Christi and San Antonio. Watts, 39, has already donated and loaned millions of dollars to his campaign. By keeping his campaign war chest abreast of the Republican's, Watts hopes to demonstrate that he can go toe to toe on television advertising.

Noriega, who is not personally wealthy, obviously hopes his Hispanic surname will help offset Watts' dollars. Hispanics lean Democratic, and can account for between a third and half the vote in a Democratic primary.

The Alamo memorial also was undoubtedly chosen to help soften any negatives Noriega's surname may have for non-Hispanics. During times of battles over immigration, and talk of a fence along the Texas-Mexico border, the memorial serves as a reminder that during Texas's war with Mexico, Hispanic Texans as well as Anglos fought and died at the Alamo.

Asked what impact his surname might have on the contest, Noriega said "I'll let the voters decide that. I'm an American."

Cornyn told reporters he'll wait to see who Democrats select as their nominee before responding to attacks.

Noriega's exploratory committee is chaired by Paul Hobby of Houston, who was the Democratic Party's near-miss candidate in 1998 for state comptroller, and son of Bill Hobby, the former longtime Democratic lieutenant governor.

Noriega "is a rare mix of passion, competence and integrity," said Paul Hobby, who said he'd known Noriega for years. "Rick can and should win. I want to turn on CNN and see him representing Texas in the United States Senate. Rick is competent and practical; he is not slick or partisan. That is what we need right now -- credible leadership."

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