The Texas AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education (COPE) met in Austin January 19-20, endorsed candidates and made plans for a big election year.

The delegates backed Rick Noriega, a long time Democratic state representative in his bid for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Noriega is a lieutenant colonel who served in Afghanistan.

Texas AFL-CIO president Becky Moeller, the first woman to hold that position, talked about Texas labor’s new momentum.

In her keynote address, she noted that labor recently helped switch two Republican seats in the State House to labor-friendly Democrats. Dan Barrett overcame six Republican opponents to take District 97 in Fort Worth and Republican state representative Kirk England in Dallas’s District 106 switched parties. Since September, Democrats have moved within striking distance of their first statewide majority since 1982.

Stewart Acuff, chair of the AFL-CIO’s Organizing Department, made a stirring speech that emphasized the teachings of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as relevant to civil rights and labor unity. He called for support of labor’s goal for justice and laid out a vision of labor united for those goals in the 2008 elections.

George Kourpias, president of the Alliance for Retired Americans, talked about the growing importance of union retirees in election campaigns. He drew sustained applause when he said, referring to President Bush, that “Texas will have a new retiree next year.”