Political People and their Moves

The dean of the Texas Capitol press corps — Clay Robison of the Houston Chronicle — is among the latest casualties of the shrinking news business in the state.Robison, who first covered the Capitol in 1971 as a reporter for the late San Antonio Light, became the Chronicle's Austin bureau chief in 1982 and has been in that chair since then. He's one of dozens of reporters laid off this week by the Chronicle. Janet Elliott, whose pink slip arrived prematurely a couple of weeks ago, is on that same list. She'll finish the legislative session with the paper; Robison will finish this week. The Chronicle's Austin bureau is combined with the San Antonio Express-News bureau; Lisa Sandberg, a reporter with that paper, was laid off a few weeks ago.

Democrats are facing a tougher run at statewide offices in 2010 than they will in 2012, former Rep. Rick Noriega told a group of UT public affairs students Wednesday afternoon. An upbeat Noriega reflected on his own run for U.S. Senate, which ended just a few months ago, and didn't rule out taking another shot at a big-time political office.

Asked about Democrats' chances in a possible special election to replace U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (should she step down to run for Governor), Noriega said anything's possible, but Democrats should be in a better position in 2012 to win statewide. His reasons: 1) After the U.S. Census and redistricting, the addition of three to five U.S. Congressional seats to the state's total should incite additional political participation; 2) Pres. Barack Obama should top the ticket again — "He's carrying the ball for the whole team," Noriega said; and, 3) State demographics are trending in a Democratic direction.

He added as a caveat that Obama's performance, which will likely be graded according to the state of the economy, will probably dictate Democrats' fortunes while he's President, for better or for worse.

Looking back at his own campaign — he lost to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn — Noriega said it was "disappointing" to witness the visceral emotions Texans had about immigration. In focus groups for his campaign, it wasn't uncommon to hear inquiries about how to pronounce "Noriega" and people saying they wouldn't be voting for him if he called himself "Mexican-American" instead of plain ol' American. (Laughing, Noriega said he thought it was "cute" that supporters would invariably choose to hold campaign rallies for him at Mexican restaurants. "They'd find every little taqueria..." he said.)

There were plenty of good moments on the trail, too, he said, like when an East Texas couple gave up their bedroom to his wife Melissa Noriega, relegating themselves to the trailer out back. Or in West Texas, when a woman tracked him down to apologize for not donating sooner, saying she had to wait on her Social Security payment before cutting him a $25 check. "We won every part of the state that believes in evolution and global warming, and we lost every other part," is a favorite observation of Melissa's, he said.

Noriega talked about the rapid evolution of technology and its increasing effectiveness in organizing campaign supporters and raising money. He also said that Obama's success proved that a message of hopefulness and motivation can beat attempts to appeal to people's fears and cynicism.

"Community organizing is back in vogue again," said Noriega, who is working as vice president for community-based initiatives for Neighborhood Centers Inc., a nonprofit with seven community centers in Houston.

As for his political future, Noriega didn't drop any hints that he's considering any particular office, but he didn't say he wouldn't run again in the future, or even in 2010. (He did say that he's been told by various people that voters — when facing special elections attracting a myriad of candidates — will often pull the lever for the candidate they've previously supported.)

"Never say never," he said, "and never say always."

Sharon Keller, chief judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, filed papers with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct saying what she said last month: She did what she was supposed to do when in September 2007. The commission complains that she denied the final appeals of a condemned man because it was after her court's 5 p.m. closing time. She'll fight their complaint and her lawyer has asked the commission to pay his fees, since the judge isn't allowed to accept pro bono work and doesn't have the money to pay a high-priced lawyer.

Some appointments of note from your governor:

Derrick Mitchell of Houston, an attorney with Bracewell and Giuliani, to another term on the State Securities Board.

William White, vice president of Cash America International, as the chairman of the Finance Commission of Texas. And Perry added Darby Ray Byrd Sr. of Orange to that board. Byrd is retired president and CEO of Orange Savings Bank.

David Cibrian, a partner at Strasburger and Price in San Antonio, Gary Janacek, CEO of Scott and White Employees Credit Union in Belton, and A. John Yoggerst, general partner at Texas Construction Alliance in San Antonio, to the state's Credit Union Commission. Janacek is the chairman and a reappointee.

Cherie Townsend to another term as executive director of the Texas Youth Commission.

• Gen. Jose Mayorga to Adjutant General of Texas, the top spot in the state's military. He was previously commander of the 36th Infantry at Camp Mabry in Austin. He's joined by Brigadier Gen. Joyce Stevens of Tomball, who'll be Assistant Adjutant General for the Army; Col. John Nichols of Spring Branch, who'll have the same posting for Air; and Col. Jeffrey Lewis of Center Park, the new deputy to Stevens.

C. Kent Conine of Dallas and Tom Gann of Lufkin to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Conine is a reappointee and will continue as chair of that board. Gann is president of Gann Medford Real Estate in Lufkin.

• Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger of Horseshoe Bay to chair the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. And he reappointed Irene Armendariz of El Paso, Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter, and Carson County Sheriff Tam Terry to that board.

Richard Rhodes of El Paso, Dora Ann Verde of San Antonio, and Welcome Wilson of Houston to the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corp. Rhodes is president of El Paso Community College; Verde is a CPA and director of internal audit with the San Antonio Water System; Wilson is president of GSL Welcome Group.