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A Kinky Kind of Campaign?

Friedman may be just the one to muss up Guv Goodhair's re-election plan

First, there was Jesse Ventura in Minnesota. Then there was Ah-nuld in California. What's next in the world of politainment?

How about Kinky Friedman as governor of Texas?

Though he hasn't yet officially announced, the stogie-chomping Poe Elementary grad/country singer-songwriter/mystery writer/Texas Monthlyhumorist and self-professed "Gandhi-like spirit of the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch" is very seriously pondering throwing his Stetson into the ring in 2006. About the only thing holding him back is the fact that he doesn't want to give up his Texas Monthly gig, which he calls the only job he's ever had. Editor "Evan Smith says he'll fire me out of a cannon the day I officially announce," he says.

Nevertheless, the campaign has already begun in Friedman's home Hill Country turf, he says. "It's getting heated," he says. "The Hill Country and Austin are already in our pocket. The new bumper sticker 'He Ain't Kinky, He's My Governor' has really caught on."

If he runs, and it seems more and more likely that he will, it will be as an independent. Friedman doesn't want the baggage of running as a Democrat, Green or Libertarian, but he says it is extremely difficult to get on the ballot here without a party affiliation. "I've been told I'm gonna need about 60,000 signatures on a petition because [the election commission] will disallow a lot of them. And they all have to be collected in a month or two after the primaries. If the primary is a runoff then you only have a month, and anybody who voted in the primary can't sign the petition. But that doesn't matter -- there's such a general apathy, you can't find anybody who votes in primaries."

And paradoxically, it's apathy that has stoked Friedman's political stogie. "That election between Tony what's-his-name [Sanchez] and Rick Perry was one of the most depressing spectacles any of us have ever witnessed. Everybody knew they didn't have a dog in that race.

"I aspire to inspire before I expire," he continues, sounding suddenly like a Texan Jesse Jackson. "The last politically elected person who inspired me was probably JFK, and I want to remind people that he wasn't just an airport, that RFK isn't just a football stadium, that Martin Luther King isn't just a street running through your town. If I can do that, young people might take more interest than they have been. And raising their interest wouldn't be hard, because right now they take no interest."

Friedman's friends in entertainment are legion, and they are already lining up in support. Penn and Teller have promised to fly in from New York and make his opposition disappear. Billy Bob Thornton's aboard, as is part-time Austinite Robert Duvall. Pat Green, Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker have promised to stump the dance halls and honky-tonks. "I think my candidacy could go, because you could have that Pat Green effect," he says. "Young people who rally around that kind of music might also do it politically. If it doesn't happen like Pat Green and Howard Dean, then it won't be worth doing." (Something like that has happened before in Texas. Back in the 1930s and '40s, singing salesman Pappy O'Daniel rode the strains of then-newfangled Western swing all the way from a Fort Worth flour company to the Governor's Mansion to a seat in the United States Senate.)

Friedman's Billy Graham, his spiritual adviser, is none other than his old tour buddy Billy Joe Shaver. "Of course, Billy Joe wants to convert me to Christianity," says Friedman. One of his tentative campaign slogans is "If you elect me the first Jewish governor of Texas, I'll reduce the speed limits to 54.95." "So we've made a compromise, which is that I will be a Judeo-Christian with Jesus in my heart. I've always admired Jesus and I've probably written about Jesus as much as anybody on the planet. He was a great Jewish troublemaker -- in the good sense of the word."

As is the crazy-like-a-fox Friedman, who plans on making religion a big campaign issue. "I want to bring back nondenominational prayer in the public schools," he says. "We need more religion in the schools, I'm gonna brang back religion," he rants in the voice of a country politician. "And I mean that. What's wrong with the kids believing in something? And Robert Duvall told Billy Joe that if I stick with that, I'll win."

So far, people around Friedman are taking his proposed candidacy more seriously than he himself is. When Racket tells Friedman that he could actually envision him pulling it off, Friedman sounds both incredulous and convinced. "Isn't that ridiculous?" he says. "The New York Timeswas down here yesterday, and they're more serious about it than I am. I told them I would spend most of my administration in Vegas, but they wanted to talk about the serious aspects."

So he's starting to expound on the issues, sometimes seriously, but more often with his trademark wit. In addition to the prayer in schools thing, there's another issue he's dead-set on: a law banning the declawing of cats. He's also toying with the idea of coming out in favor of gambling. A few other Kinky positions not found in the Kama Sutra -- abortion: "I'm not pro-choice or pro-life. I'm pro football." Gun control: "I don't carry a weapon myself, so if someone wants to shoot me they better bring their own gun." Political correctness: "We didn't get to be the Lone Star State by being PC, so I want to get rid of that." Everything else: "Sometimes I'll just quote Albert Einstein and tell people I just don't know."

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