After millionaire trial lawyer Mikal Watts dropped his Democratic candidacy for the U.S. Senate, Houston state Rep. Rick Noriega probably began gearing up for attacks from the right as he looked ahead to challenging Republican John Cornyn for his position as Texas' junior U.S. senator. Now he'll have to put those preparations on hold while he fends off an attack from his left. Corpus Christi high school social-studies teacher Ray McMurrey announced his candidacy Nov. 20 in Austin for the Democratic nomination, saying he wants to be the Texan Paul Wellstone and "to re-establish the integrity of what I teach and what American democracy is about and who American democracy should serve."
McMurrey said one of his students asked him, "Don't you have to be rich to run for the United States Senate?" "I want you to help me break the political caste system of who gets to lead in this great country," McMurrey said at a kick-off press conference at the East Austin home of activists D'Ann Johnson and Alan Pogue (the former is McMurrey's stepmother; the latter often contributes photos to the Chronicle).
He then attacked the Democratic Party establishment as "a wholly owned subsidiary" of corporate America. McMurrey said he sat down with leaders of the Texas Democratic Party earlier this month, and instead of getting asked about issues, he was only questioned on how he planned to run without $5 million in campaign funds. "I turned the question back: Why, in a democracy, with free information and free speech, do I need $5 million to convince the voters of Texas whose message is the best?" (McMurrey would not specify with whom he had talked. TDP spokesman Hector Nieto would only say: "He met with party staff when we learned he was thinking of running. We always encourage anybody thinking of running to meet with us [to discuss the logistics of running a statewide campaign]. The Texas Democratic Party will never take sides in a contested primary – that's for the voters to decide.")
McMurrey then answered the obvious question: Why is he throwing his hat in the ring now, after it appeared Noriega had been anointed as the 2008 challenger to Cornyn?
Although he praised Noriega for having "a fine record in the Legislature on social issues," McMurrey asked, "Why is the Democratic establishment endorsing my opponent, a big energy, natural gas, fossil fuels representative, while you are asked to pay $3 a gallon for gasoline?" Noriega is on leave from his employment as a marketing manager with CenterPoint Energy Inc., which is a spin-off company of Reliant Energy. In the mid-Nineties, Noriega was a lobbyist for Reliant, then known as Houston Lighting & Power.
McMurrey also questioned the fact that Noriega has received $7,000 in campaign contributions since 2006 from Bob Perry, the Houston businessman who funded the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks on John Kerry in 2004, and said he will accept no lobbyist money. In response, Noriega spokesman Andrew Dupuy cited a recent article in the Texas Weekly political newsletter, in which consumer advocate Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen praised Noriega for recusing himself from votes affecting his employer. "We wish that more people would do what Rick does," Smith is quoted as saying. "He's got real good sense of ethics and responsibilities." Regarding the Perry money, "He's been getting this thrown at him for a long time, but Rick sat down with John Kerry, and John Kerry of all people wasn't bothered by that, and in fact, Senator Kerry is actually on board supporting Rick's campaign."
As for the ultimate target, McMurrey said, "Mr. Cornyn has been a rubber stamp to the Bush administration. He's authorized what I consider a multitude of failed policies that have wrecked this economy and have wrecked the image of this nation. Other countries don't need to like us, but they need to respect us."
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