Democrats in the March 4 primary have four choices in nominating a candidate to run in this fall's general election, and easily the most qualified is Rick Noriega of Houston, a state representative and Texas National Guard officer.
The other three candidates are Ray McMurrey, an earnest Corpus Christi government teacher; Rhett Smith, a San Antonio security guard who ran as a Republican for governor in 2006; and Gene Kelly, a Universal City retiree and perennial candidate.
Noriega, 50, is a native Texan. He grew up in Houston and is a graduate of the University of Houston. He later earned a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University. He served in the Army and remains a lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard. He has served in Afghanistan and on border duty at Laredo.
Given his military credentials, it's not surprising that Noriega is in a better position than most Democrats to criticize the war in Iraq, which he says is the "key issue for us nationally." He has made it the centerpiece of his campaign, calling for U.S. troops to be brought home - not all at once, but in a steady withdrawal. He also says that "best exit strategy is to change the commander-in-chief," President Bush.
Cornyn, in contrast, remains a supporter of the war and is closely identified with the Bush administration.
Ultimately, Noriega said, the outcome of the war in Iraq will depend on political solutions, not military.
The most important domestic issue, he says, is health care. He wants to guarantee coverage through partnerships between the federal government, states, employers and health care providers, starting with an expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program. However, he declined to say at this point whether he favored Hillary Clinton's or Barack Obama's health care plan.
On immigration, Noriega has seen first-hand its impact on the border with Mexico and favors some sensible steps: securing borders and ports and providing a strict but achievable path to citizenship for those here illegally; penalizing employers who use illegal immigrants to drive down wages; and improving our system for admitting immigrants legally.
Of the four Democrats vying for the party's nomination to the U.S. Senate, Rick Noriega is undoubtedly the best candidate.
A five-term member of the Texas House, Noriega also is an Army veteran and lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army National Guard.
Noriega, a Houstonian who served in Afghanistan for 14 months, has strong feelings about the war in Iraq and can capably voice the Democratic view of the Bush administration's handling of the situation. Noriega supports a "phased military redeployment" that moves U.S. troops from "Iraq's civil wars."
Additionally, Noriega supports an "earned" way for undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows.
Noriega's opponents include two perennials -- Gene Kelly and Rhett Smith -- who don't merit serious consideration, and Ray McMurrey, a Corpus Christi high school teacher.
McMurrey is idealistic and energetic, but he lacks Noriega's preparation and acumen.
Noriega represents a more pragmatic option for Democrats in the November campaign to unseat Republican Sen. John Cornyn.
The veteran lawmaker has his eyes open about the difficult general election campaign ahead, and he is not likely to shy away from taking tough stances.
We recommend that Democrats nominate Noriega.
A native Houstonian, Noriega is campaigning aggressively on his military service. He was deployed to Afghanistan for a total of 14 months and was the Laredo Border Sector commander in Operation Jump Start during the summer of 2006.
Noriega's record as a five-term state representative also is appealing to Democrats. He strongly supports the Children's Health Insurance Program and thinks a wall along the Texas-Mexico border is not the way to stem illegal immigration.
As a state representative, Noriega authored House Bill 1403, which upon its passage made Texas the first state to provide in-state tuition rates and financial assistance for certain immigrant children.
He sees a need for comprehensive immigration policy reform that includes securing borders and ports, creating a "tough but reasonable" path to legalization, putting more resources into law enforcement agencies and penalizing employers who take advantage of the country's "broken system."
Democrats voting in the March 4 primary should choose Richard J. "Rick" Noriega as their candidate for U.S. Senate.
With the country engaged in war and El Paso so heavily involved with active duty military and veterans, we like that Noriega is a lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard and also a veteran legislator, now in his fifth term as Houston state rep in the Texas House.
He also has front-line experience with border security, serving as Laredo Border Sector Commander in the Guard and working with state, local and federal officials in cracking down on smuggling of both drugs and humans.
He also has fought for accessible and affordable health care -- a huge concern along the border -- and is a great proponent of alternative, renewable energy sources.
We recommend that Democrats vote for Rick Noriega.
In other endorsement news, in a race that the Chron ought to weigh in on, the Statesman gives a nod to Dan Grant in CD10.
Though either Grant or [Larry Joe] Doherty will give Republican incumbent Michael McCaul a good fight, Grant brings more to the primary election contest. He has youth, vigor and deep experience serving in some of the world's most dangerous places, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo. Grant has received virtually all of the endorsements from Democratic constituencies in the meandering district.
Grant is a graduate of McCallum High School and Georgetown University, where he received a degree in foreign service. He also has a master's degree from the London School of Economics and served as a civilian in various positions overseas.
Grant has backing from several Democratic Party leaders and has raised nearly $200,000 for the primary battle. For a young man making his first run for office, Grant is extremely poised and informed. He knows the district and has studied the demographics that he and other Democrats believe make McCaul vulnerable in November.
In a congressional district drawn to represent a Republican majority, a huge percentage of the Democratic vote comes from Travis County. That should give Grant an edge in the Democratic primary next month.
On the issues, Grant is for gradually withdrawing troops from Iraq but leaving a garrison in the Middle East to help train Iraqi troops; he's against the fence on the Mexico border but for improved border security measures; and he's opposed to the national animal identification system. Grant also said he would vote against making President Bush's tax cut permanent.
Doherty is a strong candidate, as well. He built a career in Houston suing lawyers for malpractice and was the tough-talking "judge" on 600 episodes of the television show "Texas Justice." He is smart, savvy and speaks a brand of Texan straight talk that voters in the district can relate to. Doherty moved to Austin for his campaign, but he owns a ranch and wildlife refuge in Washington County, also in the 10th District.
Doherty likely will raise more money than Grant, but neither will be able to match McCaul, who is one of the wealthiest members of Congress. However, both Doherty and Grant believe McCaul is not popular with district residents and is vulnerable in the fall.
Grant is ideally poised to exploit those weaknesses and appeal to Democrats across the sprawling 10th District.
In the Democratic primary for the seat held by Justice Dale Wainwright, Houston lawyer Sam Houston faces Baltasar Cruz of Dallas.
We strongly recommend Houston. Although he has the type of familiar name often exploited by candidates in Texas, Houston's résumé has substance. He is a West Texas native who has been practicing law for 20 years and has a "mixed civil litigation background."
Houston said the state's all-Republican high court rules almost exclusively for defendants, a complaint echoed by other Democrats seeking a job on the court.
Cruz has an unorthodox platform. He focused at length on rewriting the state's code for civil procedures and other side issues in a recent interview. Also, Cruz has less appellate experience than Houston.
In the Democratic primary race for the seat held by Justice Phil Johnson, Justice Linda Yanez of the 13th Court of Criminal Appeals is our recommendation. She faces state District Judge Susan Criss of Galveston.
Both candidates are adequately qualified, but Yañez is an exceptionally good candidate. Yanez, who lives in Edinburg, is making her second bid for the state's high court. She was appointed to her current position in 1993 by Gov. Ann Richards and has been elected three times.
Yanez's 15 years of appellate experience is excellent preparation for the Supreme Court. She has written 850 opinions.
The studious, serious judge is a former Harvard Law School instructor.
Criss is a former prosecutor, and her private practice experience involved criminal defense. Her trial court hears criminal and civil cases.
While Criss has produced innovative ideas as a trial judge, her strength is in criminal law and the Supreme Court deals strictly with civil cases.
Yanez is the Democrats' strongest option in this race.