AUSTIN — Those who know Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega say he is the kind of guy who rarely quits thinking seriously about politics, good government and his commitment to duty — even when deer hunting.
"He's always on the move, always talking politics," said state Rep. John Davis, R-Houston, one of Noriega's closest friends, his deskmate in the Texas House and deer-hunting partner. "Whenever he comes over to the house to visit, I like to shut it down, but Rick's more intense than I am."
That same intensity is what drove Noriega to enter the uphill battle to unseat Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, his friends and colleagues said. Noriega himself once described the Senate race as "serious business"....
The most notable piece of Noriega legislation was a 2001 measure he passed along with Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, to give in-state tuition rates to the children of undocumented immigrants.
Because federal law requires Texas to give a secondary education to all children living in the state regardless of status, Noriega argued it makes financial sense for the Texas economy to make certain these children also have the opportunity to attend college. Conservatives have been trying to overturn this law since 2007.
State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, said members of the military temporarily stationed in Texas have to pay out-of-state tuition to go to college here, as do foreign students in the country on a visa. He said it is unfair to give an advantage to youths who are in the country illegally.
"I'm very conservative, and Rick is very liberal," Berman said.
Noriega's family has lived in the United States for generations. He grew up in Houston in a home where English was his first language. Noriega learned Spanish later in life through relatives and school.Noriega joined the Army Reserves after the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. He attended the University of Houston on an ROTC scholarship and transferred to the National Guard after graduating. Noriega has two sons: Ricky, 11, is from his marriage to Melissa, and Alex, 24, is from a previous marriage.
Early in his political career, Noriega was an aide to state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, before becoming a lobbyist with Houston Industries Inc., which later divided to become Reliant Energy and CenterPoint. He moved from lobbying to economic development after winning his House seat in 1998...
Renewed sense of purpose
House colleagues describe Noriega as honest and honorable and say he pursues causes because they are heartfelt. "He wants to be somewhere where he can make a difference in people's lives," said Coleman. Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said Noriega returned from his service in Afghanistan far more driven and with a greater sense that he wanted to be a legislative leader "as opposed to a grunt or a foot soldier." Noriega said two things affected him. He said his service in Afghanistan and the death of state Rep. Joe Moreno, D-Houston, in an auto crash made him realize how "fragile" everyone is. "I realized I had in the neighborhood of 10,000 days left," Noriega said. "With the time you've got left, you've got to make something of it."
House Republican Caucus Chairman Frank Corte Jr. of San Antonio said Noriega has done a good job of representing his district, but he said the values of Texans statewide are more conservative and favor lower taxes and fewer government programs.
"To represent the whole state (as senator), you don't have to be a Republican or a Democrat, but you should at least represent the values of the whole state," Corte said.
But Melissa Noriega said she and her husband try to do that in their public service. She said they believe in public schools and higher education, health care access and a strong military. She said they support responsible business. And they want to help "when folks need a hand up, not a handout," stressing there is a difference.
"We see public service as a ministry, like a calling for a minister, and we believe we are doing what God put us on Earth to do, being public servants," Melissa Noriega said.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Noriega's Senate Race