Even Though He Doesn't Smoke It Anymore, Marijuana Is at the Core of Kinky Friedman's Run for Public Office

Political gadfly Kinky Friedman thinks winning the Agriculture Commissioner race is the key to legalizing marijuana in Texas.

Kinky Friedman hasn't smoked pot in more than 20 years, but that's not keeping him from running for Texas Agriculture Commissioner with legalizing cannabis as his main platform plank. So far, Democratic power brokers seem more willing to French-kiss a horned toad with bad breath than embrace Friedman's candidacy.

Friedman says the last couple of years, all the governor and attorney general have done “is rant about Obama.”

The "please, go away" looks are palpable, but no one really wants to debate this guy, look him in the eye or stand next to him in a photo op. You want to "out-Texas" Kinky Friedman? Go ahead on.

So now, if high-profile Alvin fastballer Nolan Ryan enters the fray on the Republican ticket as he has hinted, the race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner just might be Texas's top political circus of 2014 bar none, the stuff CNN and Fox and MSNBC can turn into CarMax ads for weeks and weeks. Even without Ryan, the race has the potential to create interesting ripples in a state that has been solidly red for two decades.

Kinky Friedman says he's the only politician in the statewho isn't too chicken to propose legalizing marijuana.
Daniel Kramer
Kinky Friedman says he's the only politician in the statewho isn't too chicken to propose legalizing marijuana.
Nolan Ryan pauses for a moment at his ranch.
Matt Lankes
Nolan Ryan pauses for a moment at his ranch.
Carolyn Farb is among Kinky Friedman's supporters.
Jason Wolter
Carolyn Farb is among Kinky Friedman's supporters.

Don't worry about the fact that a recent national Gallup poll indicated 58 percent of Americans now favor full legalization and that most recent polls show the same percentage in Texas. Don't worry that the Agriculture Commissioner can't actually enact a law legalizing pot. Just understand that the Friedman camp plans to frame the race as a statewide referendum on legalization. Period.

Of course, Friedman's sincerity was immediately questioned. The day of his official announcement, Republican candidate Eric Opiela quickly issued a press release that characterized Friedman's candidacy as a joke, saying, "The issues facing Texas are serious. Our Agriculture Commissioner should be too."

"We need an agriculture commissioner," added Opiela, "who will focus on jobs, not jokes; drought, not drama and water lines, not punch lines."

Yes, it was that scripted and wooden.

Eye roll from Friedman, who says he expected GOP candidates would take a dismissive tack in responding to his candidacy.

"But if they really weren't worried about me, I don't think they'd have started attacking me immediately."

"Look, I'm 69, I don't have time for stunts," the musician, novelist, cigar and salsa salesman, tequila distiller, former Peace Corps volunteer and maverick politician explains as he walks up the Drag in Austin puffing his trademark cigar. "I'm dead serious about this run and about pushing for legalization. Marijuana is at the heart of a crucial matrix that, if we can get it straightened out and in motion, will become a great economic engine we can use to solve some of the biggest problems we face as a state.

"It's time Texans asked themselves: Are we going to secede or are we going to lead?"

Friedman, who lives on a ranch outside Kerr­ville where he operates an animal rescue charity and a youth camp, bolsters his contention that times and Texas attitudes are changing with examples of lawmen telling him we are losing the war on drugs and that they are wasting their time on small-time pot-smoking cases instead of tackling more serious crimes.

"I had a constable in Bandera tell me a few weeks ago that we're never going to win the so-called drug war, at least where pot is concerned," says Friedman. "And this is some guy who would be your worst redneck nightmare in a late-night traffic stop.

"He also told me that he has to go somewhere nearly every night and stop some guy who's had ten beers or four whiskeys from beating his wife, and that just doesn't happen with marijuana smokers. The only thing a marijuana smoker is likely to beat up is a bag of Doritos."

Friedman cites the cost to the public for enforcement of marijuana possession as "a $250 million economic burden that has zero return for the citizens of Texas."

"We've let these corporate prisons become holding tanks for pot smokers, and most of 'em are inner-city minorities," Friedman explains. "That's a sad commentary on how the system is broken. I doubt most Texans want an economy based on prisoners and prison jobs."
_____________________

While the blue-versus-red face-off between Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis and current Attorney General Gregg Abbott will likely be the most bitterly fought and heavily scrutinized statewide contest in 2014, the race for Agriculture Commissioner may well be more entertaining. As The Dallas Morning News has already pointed out, that down-ballot race used to be about candidates positioning themselves as the most legitimate rancher or farmer, but that is almost a non-factor for 2014.

Not only is the irreverent Friedman in the race, Rick Perry lieutenant and former state representative Sid Miller — who introduced the sonogram portion of the controversial abortion law that elicited then-unknown Davis's now-­famous filibuster, making her a national name literally overnight — is currently thought to be the most likely Republican to square off with Friedman next November.

Friedman's name-recognition factor dwarfs Miller's, but adding to the potential for a circus spectacle campaign as candidates duck and dodge the marijuana issue is the recent announcement that right-wing lightning rod, rock guitarist and gun control opponent Ted Nugent will serve as Miller's campaign treasurer. But all bets on Miller even winning the Republican primary are off if baseball celebrity and beef purveyor Nolan Ryan enters the field.

Within days of resigning as the chief executive officer of the Texas Rangers baseball team, the former Astros great launched trial balloons in the press hinting at a run for Agriculture Commissioner. (The filing deadline for the race is December 9, a little less than three weeks away.)

But Nugent and Ryan aren't the only celebrities throwing their weight into the race. Longtime legalization advocate, marijuana connoisseur and Texas country-music icon Willie Nelson has pledged to help his friend Friedman's campaign with its fundraising.

With all those musicians involved, the campaign songs they generate alone will be worth the price of admission.

Couple Friedman, Ryan, Miller, Nelson and Nugent with the other Republican candidates — virtually unknown Uvalde mayor J. Allen Carnes, former state representative Tommy Merritt of Longview and attorney/Republican strategist/Tea Party favorite Opiela of Karnes City — and the elements for a bizarre who-knows-what-idiocies-will-be-uttered campaign even by recent Texas standards seem to be in place.

"A few months ago I wasn't sure it was time to bring up marijuana," Friedman explains, waving his cigar for emphasis, "but there's been tremendous backlash and fallout from the government shutdown that seems to have opened the door to possibilities that didn't exist before that. And there's extreme backlash about the Republican shenanigans that took place in the special session of the legislature.

Friedman, the only Democrat on the primary ballot so far, says he also intends to push for the revitalization of the hemp industry in Texas and the legalization of casino gambling. He ticks off drought remediation, water conservation and development, and the growing feral-hog population as urgent problems to be addressed. But legalizing pot will be his go-to issue.

"Couple that with Dr. Sanjay Gupta's change of heart on marijuana plus recent polls showing the U.S. population in favor of legalization," he says, " [and] that makes a pretty strong argument in my mind that people are ready for some common sense to prevail."

Friedman is referring to CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, who was against medicinal use and legalization for years but did a complete about-face when his special "Weed" aired in August.

In a summary of the program, Gupta wrote, "I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have 'no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.' They didn't have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn't have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works."

Gupta went on to state, "We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that."

"Twenty states are already allowing medical use," says Friedman. "Is Texas going to be the last state to allow it? This is something we need to put on the table and discuss immediately because there's all kinds of positive research. This stuff can help a lot of very sick people and that's the right thing to do.

"We've got M.D. Anderson in Houston, the top cancer research hospital in the world, but we're not even letting them look into marijuana?" he scoffs. "The top cancer experts in the world aren't looking into this? That's not just crazy, it's inhumane."
_____________________

In spite of high name recognition and support from celebrities like Nelson, Friedman carries plenty of baggage into the race. Influential Democrats still hold grudges over his 2006 independent run for governor, in which Friedman garnered 12 percent of the popular vote and was blamed by some for pulling votes and money away from moderate Democratic candidate Chris Bell of Houston. Democratic officials also blame Friedman for a lack of support for former Houston mayor Bill White's run for governor in 2010.

But while most statewide Democratic Party operatives have frostily ignored Friedman's candidacy, on November 7 the Al Jazeera news network filmed a segment at his ranch. He's already had one interview with Fox News talk-show maven Don Imus, who supported Friedman in previous races.

Although the race for Agriculture Commissioner is not usually a particularly high-profile contest, the office has been a springboard for numerous Texas politicians with higher aspirations. Most notably, Governor Rick Perry served from 1991 until 1999, when he ran for lieutenant ­governor.

Despite its lack of day-to-day visibility, with one in seven Texans working in agriculture and an annual gross revenue of around $100 billion, the office affects a crucial segment of the Texas economy.

But if Friedman is expecting rousing support from other Texas Democrats who are concerned about certain marijuana-related issues, he's likely to be disappointed. In this past legislative session, Fort Worth's Lon Burnam and Houston's Harold Dutton sponsored a bill to reduce marijuana possession sentences that never made it out of the powerful Calendar Committee, which decides when bills will be brought to the House floor for debate. Burnam says he hopes another candidate will step forward to challenge Friedman in the Democratic primary.

"I like Kinky okay, but I just don't see him having the administrative mind-set that job requires," says the nine-term state legislator, also noting that he regrets the timing of Friedman's interjection of such a controversial issue into the 2014 race.

"For the first time in a while, we have a candidate for governor who has a real chance, so I hate to see the introduction of an issue that could create confusion for some voters," says Burnam, who does admit he would vote for Friedman against Nolan Ryan.

Austin Democratic representative and vice-chairman of the Public Health committee Elliott Naish­tat has a different reason for not supporting Friedman's call for legalization. Naish­tat entered the Texas House in 1991, the same year Texas's last Democratic governor, Ann Richards, was sworn in, and has been sponsoring medical marijuana bills in almost every legislative session since 2001 without success. But he sees progress on the issue and feels Friedman's push for legalization may only confuse the matter.

"We've been careful not to bring the legalization issue into the discussion when we talk about medical use," Naish­tat explains. "The way our bill is framed, it simply allows a judge to dismiss a case if it is clear that the person has a valid medical need and is acting on a doctor's recommendation.

"Say a doctor says to a patient that marijuana might work in their specific case," he continues. "We just want there to be a mechanism where, if that person is later cited or arrested, they can go before a judge and say, 'Look, Judge, I'm not a criminal; I'm not dealing in drugs. I have a condition this is helping, and my doctor suggested I try it.'

"Our bill simply allows the judge the leeway to review the facts in the case and dismiss charges if the use is truly medical and doctor-recommended," Naish­tat concludes. "But in no way does our bill seek to make marijuana legal."

The legislator notes that Texans seem to be waking up to the idea of medicinal use.

"In the last session, we finally held a hearing for the bill in the Public Health committee," he says. "Some of the testimony — by doctors and patients — was so compelling it actually had some people crying. I'm very encouraged, and I believe we will eventually get a bill to the floor for debate, but I think movement in this area will be incremental rather than sudden.

"The moves by other states regarding medical marijuana haven't gone unnoticed," Naish­tat explains. "But this is Texas, and no candidate for office wants to risk being labeled soft on crime."

Confronted with the lack of support even by Democrats who are on the front line of marijuana reform in the state, Friedman says he has no problem with positive forces like Burnam and Naish­tat distancing themselves from his push for legalization. What he returns to over and over in conversation is that marijuana arrests are a key driver in the profitability of private prisons and that some powerful financial interests will be threatened by ­legalization.

"The governor and his cronies want to talk about reducing the size of government?" says Friedman. "Well, why are they all for these for-profit prison operations? How does putting 70,000 people in those private jails help us? Keeping pot illegal and jailing users for profit, this doesn't help the people of Texas; this helps the outlaws who operate the illegal drug business and don't pay taxes. How smart is that?"

"Look at history, look at what happened when Prohibition was lifted," he continues. "The turf wars were over because the criminals lost their source of revenue. The legitimate liquor companies got stronger, and that's a vigorous, profitable industry today that results in significant tax revenues. I think the same thing will happen when we legalize marijuana."

As for how it plays out if he actually wins the election, Friedman sees a fairly quick move by the legislature to legalize the drug.

"Politicians move with the voters," he observes. "If I win this running on legalizing marijuana, I think you'll see a lot of position-shifting on the issue and a scramble to see who gets a bill onto the Governor's desk first."
_____________________

While he never made it out of the Democratic primary in a bid for the agriculture seat in 2010, Friedman insists he is not only going to run a serious, aggressive campaign — "people keep bringing up about how serious I am, so am I supposed to quit smiling or something?" — he believes he can be the first Democrat elected to statewide office in almost two decades. He was pondering another run for the governor's office, this time as a Democrat rather than as an independent, until Wendy Davis officially declared her ­candidacy.

"I'll be fully supporting Wendy Davis," Friedman says now. "I realize she may have to distance herself from me and the marijuana issue, but that's all right. I think I'll pull in a bloc of independent voters that she might not reach otherwise, and hopefully they'll vote for both of us. The better Wendy does, the better we'll do.

"I think lots of people who identify as libertarians will like my message," Friedman ­speculates.

Describing himself as a Harry Truman blue-dog Democrat, Friedman notes his strategy is going to be "to talk common sense" about the economic benefits of legalizing marijuana.

"It's what forward-thinking people have been saying all along, control it and tax it just like tobacco and alcohol," he says. "Colorado is already realizing some significant revenue from legalization, and they've just passed a 25 percent tax on it. That's exactly what we need to do in Texas, so we can put that money to work on our real problems."

"The way we're handling this now, we're just helping the Mexican drug cartels maintain their monopoly," adds Friedman. "I find it amazing the governor doesn't see that by the state legalizing and controlling the growth and sale of marijuana, that we could literally knock the legs out from under the cartels without firing a shot."

The rest of Friedman's economic engine involves farming hemp (a non-potent form of marijuana) for industrial use and export while realizing significant water conservation gains due to hemp's low water requirement vis-à-vis cotton; reducing insecticide use — hemp is essentially a weed and insects aren't interested; and opening casinos so Texas money stays in Texas.

"I've never understood why we give all this money to other states," Friedman shakes his head. "We're just waving good-bye to the money for school improvements and roads, for mass transit, money we can put into drought remediation, into water-conservation projects, stuff this state is crying out for. What are we thinking?"

Friedman says the last couple of years, all the governor and attorney general have done "is rant about Obama" and spend hundreds of millions of dollars in state money challenging federal laws to appeal to their right-wing voting base.

"They can call my campaign a joke, but if the Republicans have any answers to the great problems this state faces, why haven't they implemented them instead of obsessing about women's reproductive systems or gay marriage?" he notes. "They've had total control of this state almost 20 years now, but nothing is getting fixed."

"I really love it when they say I'm a gadfly," laughs Friedman, "like that's a negative thing, a reason not to take me seriously. Of course I'm a gadfly. Gadflies poke fun at problems and hypocrites, and there's plenty of that around right now."

"Someone asked Willie Nelson why he supported me for governor one time, and Willie told him, 'because Kinky listens to new ideas.' We are in dire need of some fresh thinking and creative, visionary problem-solving."
_____________________

Only days after announcing his campaign, Friedman is in Austin for an afternoon performance at the Texas Book Festival, clad in full Texas showbiz regalia. The music tent is positioned along 11th Street right next to the Governor's Mansion, an irony not lost on the failed 2006 candidate. A state trooper guarding the entry moves to the window of the green Chevy truck, recognizes Friedman and sticks his beefy hand in the window.

"Great to see you, sir," says the young trooper. "I voted for you; keep up the good work."

"I appreciate that maybe more than you know," Friedman says and drives to his designated spot.

It's immediately apparent candidate Friedman has what every politician craves: an astronomical recognition factor. In less than 15 minutes, he's posed for dozen of pictures, autographed several books and CDs, and met with a woman who wants to do his biography and a young independent documentary filmmaker who needs five minutes.

A tall, heavily mustached Marlboro Man cowboy in gray pearl-snap shirt, cowboy boots and a gray felt Stetson approaches Friedman and asks him to autograph a cowboy hat covered with the signatures of people like Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Price and Robert Earl Keen Jr.

"Are you sure you want me on here?" Friedman jokes and scribbles. "I'm running for Agriculture Commissioner, you know? My campaign is going to be a referendum on legalizing marijuana."

The tall Texan nods and tells Friedman, "It's about time. I could vote for that."

He introduces himself: Jim Delony, a minister from Houston who works with Impact Church of Christ, a ministry to the homeless that operates a worship space and a food distribution center on Weber Street just north of downtown Houston.

"I work around the poor and homeless every day," Delony explains. "It's the poor and minorities that get the worst end of the marijuana thing."

Delony, who declares, "I'm not a Democrat," goes on to lecture Friedman a bit on the topic, maintaining that he considers marijuana use to be as immoral as premarital sex, but pleading for "some true commonsense Christianity on this issue."

"When you arrest these men and send them away a couple of years, you're usually either putting a family in jeopardy or you're saddling these 18- and 19-year-olds with a record that sticks with them," the minister says. "Even if you just get 30 days in county, you come out with a record. From my perspective and what I'm trying to achieve, I can tell that's not a good way to begin a productive career or a successful married life."

Friedman and Delony — who both went to Houston's Pershing Junior High at the same time — exchange contact information and promise to stay in touch.

Once onstage, Friedman becomes the Kinkster, the Texas Jewboy, the revered Texas songwriter and biting pundit everyone knows. When he announces halfway through the set that he's running for Agriculture Commissioner and is going to campaign to legalize marijuana, a huge roar erupts from the elderly, bookish crowd of 200 or so gathered in the shade of the tent. There isn't an empty chair to be had as he works his way through an hour of his best-known songs.

Afterward, he sells books and CDs and presses the flesh, a mention of his campaign and his positions never far from the surface. He poses for a picture with three generations of women and quips, "I was for gay marriage when Wendy Davis was still skipping rope."

It takes 40 minutes to work through the autographs and interminable photographs.

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23 comments
cdjtiger
cdjtiger

I'm voting  twice  for Kinky ....   

maxine.thomas
maxine.thomas

It makes no sense to me why either one of these folks would want to run.  Yes they both have land but neither can find their A _ _ with two hands and a flashlight.  Nolan Ryan's name actually came up at lunch today as someone who can't manage and is a 1% team owner of the of the Rangers for name recognition only.  Heck he was forced to step down just last October as CEO.  You can see his ranch land here http://secure.oginfo.com/fastmaps/fxmaps/flexgov_lite/mcmullencad.php#county=MCMULLEN


I haven't looked for Kinkys

aliasetc
aliasetc

Kinky for president! Why the hell not?

cafelinus
cafelinus

It don't matter who's in Austin Bob Wills is still the king.

(How long have I been waiting to use that on KF story thread? Years, years.)

pickrick4texasag
pickrick4texasag

I want to know his Qualifications to run! Seems he runs a pet rescue ranch that does NOT meet State Agriculture Code requirements to be a serious candidate ?

johncoby
johncoby

The man is no dumbass. His simple minded campaign on pot will attract the simple minded and we have a LOT of them in Texas.

The reality is that as Ag Commissioner he will have absolutely NO say on whether weed will be legalized here in Texas (and it wont). The house and senate will have to file, debate, and vote on the bill, all that the Commissioner will not be able to do. And the governor will have to sign it. The House and senate will never debate this bill. It will never be voted on. Yet this dumbass will use the issue to get other dumbasses dope heads to vote for him.

Puller58
Puller58

I don't take the Kinkster too seriously.  Checking his songs on YouTube makes me realize his "airtime" on the radio was "0" for good reason.  Never read any of his books, and his comments on Katrina refugees sounds like Howard Stern on a lame day.  Run all you want Kinky, but even Jim Hightower has a better shot.

Russ McClung
Russ McClung

Who cares? It's not like we're running short of dumbed down unmotivated people.. Legalizing pot just might make a few people put the pipe down ;)

sweetcookies3333
sweetcookies3333

the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING


20 years behind us Texas, it's not like you to trail us in anything, im disappointed....better to let the free yankee states get all the marijuana $$$ and the power, eh?.....figure it out texans


AMERICA'S WAR ON DRUGS IS A WAR ON AMERICANS!!!33

Nelo Maciel
Nelo Maciel

legalization is just around the corner

WhiteLightning
WhiteLightning

@maxine.thomas Time to wake up and quit thinking in the old way about this stuff. If Kinky wins the primary run-off -- and very likely will -- then look out, the sky is the limit, especially if people who haven't been turning out to vote come to the polls. Kinky's the only one who isn't reading from the same old script that has gotten Dems nowhere for two decades. 

WhiteLightning
WhiteLightning

@pickrick4texasag I'm gonna vote for honest, unbought politician and Kinky looks like the only one of those in this race. The Republicans in the race so far are all cardboard Rick Perry cutouts whose only qualifications seem to be that they know very well what corporate whores are supposed to do.

WhiteLightning
WhiteLightning

@johncoby I agree with Zip, you're an idiot. And it looks like you don't read very well. He clearly states he knows AG Com can't introduce the law. Wait til your son or daughter is doing six months in a for profit prison and get back to me with your Dark Ages view of this issue.


Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah
Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah topcommenter

@johncoby You are an idiot…..The Kinkster has my vote cuz he went to my junior high school and he is the real deal…..oh and he is on the right side of the fence regarding cannabis

WhiteLightning
WhiteLightning

@Puller58 So you're going to vote for some Republican cardboard cuttout politician I guess? I'll take KF over anyone in the race. And the legalization thing is just a bonus.

WhiteLightning
WhiteLightning

@Russ McClung People in prison care, Ross. People with family in prison care. Taxpayers who are tired of paying hundreds of millions for the "drug war" care. I guess you've got more important issues? Vaginas? Zero gun control? Flag burning? Yeah, your aloofness and superiority are so cool. Thanks for your superior-to-everyone yawn. 

 
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