Attendees started arriving at 6:30 but it soon became clear that Friday evening traffic was delaying the arrival of many. The room eventually filled. I saw many old friends, people who I worked so closely with during the ’06 campaign, but now hardly see at all anymore.
I was talking with Melissa Noriega before dinner. Melissa reads my blog. At one point it suddenly dawned on her that it was I who provided the digital projector upon which their presentation that night heavily depended, she immediately said, “Come with me you have got to meet Rick” So she led me over and interrupted a conversation to introduce me. We talked a bit then Melissa said that maybe I could help with the projector. That’s when I looked over and saw that it had all been set up but the projected image was upside-down. I knew the problem and the solution so got busy poking through the menu, a menu that you had to read upside down and flip through the arrowed menu in the opposite direction to the ways the arrows were pointing. I was having trouble and Rick said that he was about to apply the Army solution and turn the projector upside down, and I admitted that if I couldn’t figure out the menu, that would probably be the quickest solution.
But I finally got the image flipped.
The buffet line was long so I sat and talked with fellow FBDs until the line shortened. Then we got up and loaded up.
The emcee of the evening was Democratic activist Don Bankston. After a few opening remarks, Don introduced Dr. Charles Meisgeier who was going to introduce the Noriegas.
I stopped and reflected here. Here we were a group of Democrats having a party and honoring a heroic democratic family at a local country club, when the very next day, the Fort Bend County Republican Party was going to hold their annual fundraiser at the Sugar Land Marriott. It had just been in the news that Bob Perry, the godfather of the ’04 swift-boat campaign against John Kerry, had offered the Republicans $20,000 in order to have the honor of naming the person to introduce their speaker, right-wing commentator Fred Barnes. He did this even though Sugar Land mayor Dave Wallace had already been asked to donate $15,000 for the honor. So I had to ask myself, what had Dr. Meisgeier paid in order to introduce our speakers? Don answered in this way – instead of paying cash for the honor, he paid with his first-born child.
Wow. That’s pretty intense.
So Dr. Meisgeier got to introduce Rick Noriega and his wife Melissa Louise Meisgeier Noriega.
I like Dr. Meisgeier a lot. He has a very glib tongue and has a way with words. I guess his only fault is that he has a way with TOO MANY words.
Not that I’m complaining. He told a lot of family stories. Stories about how he required Melissa to read an entire set of encyclopedias before he bought her a car, how she did over a three year period, how he tested her in an oral exam to be sure, and how she answered all questions correctly. Stories about how she won her 6th grade science fair by observing the effects of alcohol consumption on ants – ants who consume alcohol take longer to work their way through a maze. There’s something I didn’t know. About how Melissa always has something in her car - water, juice, money - to give to people standing at intersections looking for handouts. How she gives rides to people walking in the rain. These things were new to us, and it serves to underline a remark that Don had made earlier: "Melissa Noriega is the real deal."
But perhaps the most significant thing that Dr. Meisgeier said in his overlong introduction was this:
“I believe there are forces at work that move people to where they need to be.”It was a theme that repeated through the course of the evening. At long last, Rick and Melissa Noriega got to the microphone. They gave a PowerPoint presentation. Now I know how hard it is to put one of these things together so I was really impressed that they had gone to this amount of trouble to share their lives and family with us. There was no title screen, but if there was going to be one, I would say it was this with a nod to Melissa who provides the first part: “From Ardmore to Afghanistan and Beyond: The Noriega Family Moved From Place to Place By Unseen Forces to Serve Their Fellow Man.”
In a tag team presentation style, Rick and Melissa traded places to tell their individual stories beginning with their marriage on Valentine’s day 1991 and then the Tom DeLay-engineered 2nd in a decade redistricting, when state legislators got on buses and slipped out of state to Ardmore, Oklahoma to avoid the vote on approval of new gerrymandered and (eventually found to be) unconstitutional congressional district boundaries. Rick told the story of the trip, Melissa told the story of the trooper who came to her home’s front door to threaten her if she didn’t tell him where her husband was.
Rick, a Texas National Guard reservist, was called to serve in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom. Rick recalled his trip half way around the world, and his duties. Rick was still a State Representative, but also a Major in the army at the time. Rick fell in with a group of fellow Majors who did everything together. This was a special group that came to be called “The Effing Majors”. He recalled being assembled in a hut on January 11, 2005 with his band of brothers, while half way around the world, state legislators were being sworn in to the 79th Legislature. His band of brothers swore him in.
Rick’s first act was to nominate Melissa Noriega to serve in his place while he was on deployment. He took advantage of a newly voted in constitutional amendment to allow spouses to serve in a legislator’s place. Said amendment was authored by then State Representative Carlos Uresti, Rick’s Ardmore roomie.
Then Melissa tagged off and gave her account of her time in the State Legislature. She said very little, but the overall impression I got was that she was honored to be working in the legislature, and was happy that she was put in a position where she could tell some people what to do.
Upon his return in August 2005, Rick was immediately tapped by Mayor Bill White to take charge of the George R. Brown convention center which was becoming the temporary home to hundreds of Katrina evacuees. Melissa also helped to organize this effort. An effort, Rick says, made a success by having so many willing volunteers.
Then Rick spent another 5 and a half months working on Bush’s Operation Jump Start – border duty, stopping border crossings and drug trafficking.
Wrapping it up, Rick and Melissa asked us “What does it all mean?” Some of their efforts were made by choice, but some were driven by fate – allusions to Jonah and the Whale were made.
They were put where they were supposed to be.
Who knows where is the next stop for Rick? Where will he suppose to be in the future.Who is for nominating him to oppose US Senator John Cornyn in 2008? The senator from Texas, who as I write this, is in DC voting No to hearing debate on the House resolution to disapprove of Bush’s escalation of the War in Iraq. Cornyn votes No on a resolution, one of many to come, to bring stop the war, but has never served in a war. I think Democrats can do better.
And again, where is Melissa supposed to be now? Well, Melissa Noriega finds herself where she is supposed to be. She is running in a special election to serve out Shelley Sekula-Gibbs’ city council seat. You know the one that was forsaken in favor of 5 magical days in Washington DC? Her website is up. Go here and read about the campaign, sign up for email news, and leave a contribution.