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Is Texas Ready for Governor Kinky?

March 6, 2006

By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

HOUSTON — The line of well-dressed young executives stretches down a hallway, past a table of Kinky Friedman talking action figures and straight up to the candidate for Texas governor in the black cowboy hat.

“I’ll sign anything,” country singer and mystery novelist Kinky Friedman assures the crowd arriving for a downtown luncheon speech as they snap up Kinky T-shirts, bumper stickers and posters sold to finance his independent — and decidedly nontraditional — bid for governor.

With a blizzard of one-liners, a campaign slogan of “Why the Hell Not?” and an eclectic blend of policy ideas from all sides of the ideological divide, the former frontman for the band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys says he wants to “change the world one governor at a time.”

Friedman hopes to tap voter frustration with Republican Gov. Rick Perry, Texas Democrats and politics in general to become the latest celebrity governor, following wrestler Jesse Ventura in Minnesota and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California.

“People are drooling for the truth, they are begging for a little honesty from officials and they aren’t getting any,” the black-clad, cigar-chomping Friedman told Reuters. “This is the moment in history if Texas can grab it.”

Friedman’s independent crusade kicks off on Wednesday, the day after the Texas primary, when volunteers can begin to gather the signatures needed to get him on the ballot in November.

He has 64 days to get 45,540 signatures of registered voters who did not vote in the primary, a stringent requirement that prompts an urgent plea from Friedman.

‘SAVE YOURSELF FOR KINKY’

“Don’t vote in the primary. Save yourself for Kinky,” he tells his audiences, typically split between supporters and the simply curious.

His candidacy already has enlivened a governor’s race involving Perry, who took over when George W. Bush moved to the White House, two Democrats and Republican state Comptroller Carole Strayhorn, who also is running as an independent.

Saying “there’s plenty of room in the hot tub,” Friedman welcomed Strayhorn, mother of White House press secretary Scott McClellan, into the race. But there has not been an independent on the Texas ballot for governor in modern times, and the last one elected governor was Sam Houston in 1859 — a fact Friedman calls “shameful.”

“Independence is the Texas way. It ain’t the easy way, but it’s the cowboy way,” Friedman said. “The parties are doing a disservice to Texas. They are monopolizing democracy.”

Friedman, whose support was at 10 percent in recent polls, hopes to raise $6 million by November, enough to air television ads down the stretch but not enough to make a big splash in Texas, where candidates spent $100 million in the last governor’s race.

His prospects are routinely dismissed by pundits and Texas politicians, but “the people are taking me very seriously. They’re taking me more seriously than I take myself,” Friedman said.

‘COMPASSIONATE REDNECK’

“I’m a compassionate redneck, I’m an unabashed dreamer, but I’m not a politician,” said the author of more than 20 books, including a string of mystery novels featuring a detective named Kinky Friedman.

He is best known for his days leading the Texas Jewboys, an Austin band known for politically incorrect blasts such as “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” and “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven & Your Buns in the Bed.”

“I wrote the songs to express truth as I see it, and that has not changed. From the music to the books, I’ve been a truth teller,” he said. “Being a humorist helps, because you can sail as close to the truth as you can get without sinking the ship.”

He announced his campaign last year with a quip — “I need the closet space” — and he fires off a steady stream of one-liners and slogans like “How Hard Can it Be?”

“He Ain’t Kinky, He’s My Governor,” reads a Friedman bumper sticker, while his 13-inch-high (33-cm-high) talking action figure, a popular seller at $29.95 each, spouts lines like “I’m gonna de-wussify Texas if I have to do it one wuss at a time.”

Kathryn Lott, who bought three bumper stickers, a poster and a button before listening to Friedman in Houston, said she plans to vote for him.

“We need some freethinkers in government. Why not take a chance with someone new?” said Lott, a marketing director for the Houston Grand Opera.

Mary Lane, a Houston realtor, said Friedman has “a definite shot. People are tired of politicians and politics.”

He promises to bring musician pals like Willie Nelson into his administration, and says he will rename major highways after Texas musical icons like Nelson, Bob Wills and Buddy Holly.

“Musicians can run this state better than politicians. We won’t get a lot done in the mornings, but we’ll work late and be honest,” he said.

Friedman, whose parents were educators, is serious about the state’s education system, promising to turn school choices back to teachers and create a “Texas heroes” program to lure retired experts into schools.

He would boost pay for teachers, police and firefighters, he says, and fund it with legalized casino gambling and a 1 percent tax surcharge on Texas oil and gas companies.

He supports gay marriage, saying “they have every right to be as miserable as the rest of us,” and prayer in the schools. He is against the death penalty — a view he likens to “looking into your political grave” in Texas.

“I just want Texas to be number one in something other than executions, toll roads and property taxes,” Friedman says. But if he loses he promises to ditch Texas and head to Hawaii.

“If I lose this race I will retire in a petulant snit,” he said. “I’m not going to go out gracefully, I promise you.”


Source: reuters



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