Just as we predicted in our cover story on the Texas Agriculture Commissioner race last November, it has turned into one of the best political circuses since Claytie Williams went on his dove hunt, opened his arrogant, chauvinistic pie-hole, and handed Ann Richards the last statewide Democratic victory.
Since the March 4 primary, Democrats have had to face some rather unpleasant realities. Hugh Asa Fitzsimons III, the party's regal-sounding Anointed One, was embarrassed by maverick Richard "Kinky" Friedman and unknown Jimmie Ray Hogan, a Cleburne insurance salesman.
Candidates such as lieutenant governor hopeful Leticia Van de Putte who closed ranks behind Fitzsimons didn't even bother to address Hogan's candidacy, but she not only trashed Friedman in the press, she also hired a phone bank to bad-mouth him just prior to the election.
Yet, in spite of zero recognition by the state Democratic apparatus or any active campaign -- according to Hogan his cell phone and the Internet are all the campaign he needs, "just Google Jim Hogan," -- the small-time Cleburne rancher received 38.8 percent of the Democratic vote. Friedman, who has massive name recognition, ran a close second with 37.7 percent. Fitzsimons could only muster a measly 23.5 percent.
That result presented stunned state party honchos and up-ballot candidates a conundrum: They are hesitant to endorse Friedman, who is not part of the party establishment and whose campaign to legalize pot scares the bejesus out of them. But they in no way want to endorse Hogan, who is viewed as a Republican in sheep's clothing.
How so? According to Hogan's own statements, he only ran as a Democrat because the Republican field was crowded with five candidates in the primary. Hogan told the Texas Observer on the day after the primary, "I can't whup all five of 'em but I might whup one of 'em."
Hogan has enunciated no platform, no well-elaborated positions on issues, and hasn't engaged in any of the traditional campaigning or travel. He didn't even bother to fill out the candidate questionnaire used by the Dallas Morning News to vet candidates for their endorsement.
Given his lack of any sort of known public profile, political scientists and pundits have ascribed Hogan's first place finish in March to his lack of name recognition. The consensus is that "Jim Hogan" just seems like a name a solid, middle-of-the-road Texan would have. Given Hogan's lack of any campaign etc., it is assumed by most that people who voted for the Hogan had no clue whom they were voting for nor what his positions are.
Many compared the Hogan phenomenon to Gene Kelly, who, in spite of not being the famous actor/dancer heart-throb who starred in Singing In the Rain, would pull thousands of votes in past gubernatorial primaries. Bottom line? According to virtually every politician and academician who has analyzed the situation, voters are simply poorly informed and, in Hogan's case, have no idea who he is or what he stands for politically.
So, if Hogan doesn't have any political goals for the office he seeks, why is he in the race and what does he actually want? Voters are unlikely to get much of Hogan's "vision" from reading the few interviews he's given.
"All these party people call, and they want to talk about me being a Democrat and whether I'll campaign for them," he told the Fort Worth Star Telegram. "That's exactly what I don't want anything to do with. I'm not running to be a Democrat. I'm running because some people in Texas want somebody who cares about agriculture."
Well, that explains it.
Speculation among Democrats Hair Balls has spoken with runs mostly along the lines of it's just an ego thing or that Hogan is a Trojan horse. Not a single politician or party operative we've spoken with can pinpoint any specific reason why Hogan is seeking the job, but many suspect some kind of backroom Republican shenanigans similar to Rush Limbaugh's 2008 Operation Chaos. (Limbaugh wanted Republicans to cross-over in the primaries and vote for the weakest Democratic candidates to ensure Republican victories in the general election.)
In other words, Hogan could well be an insurance policy for Republican interests in a race where both Republican runoff candidates -- former state representatives Sid Miller and Tommy Merritt -- are weak and seen as fairly vulnerable. It's also a race where most operatives believe the only real threat to a Republican victory is Friedman.
According to Randy Hanna, Democratic party parliamentarian for the Johnson County Democratic Party, where Hogan resides, "Jim Hogan is a nice enough fellow, but he's no Democrat."
Hanna says Hogan stated that he would not campaign in line with the state party platform and that he has no intention of even attending the state or county conventions.
A check of Hogan's voting records finds that he usually votes in the Republican primary, but voted in the Democratic primary in 2008, presumably as Limbaugh urged. So the general consensus that Hogan is a straw-man candidate meant to be a weak sister who will be crushed in the November general election by either Merritt or Miller doesn't seem all that far-fetched.
While Friedman has a multi-faceted plan that involves legalization and control of marijuana, removal of the ban on hemp production, legalization of casino gambling, conservation of water, and reduction of pesticide usage, according to Hanna, Hogan has said that he would only take the time to familiarize himself with specific issues if elected.
"If a candidate won't meet with the press and state his views on the issues, how do voters make an informed choice?" Hanna asks. "What's really incredible is he says he's going to wait until he sees if he gets elected, then he'll go to every county in the state and ask questions and determine what needs to be done. That's just ridiculous, and it's insulting to voters."
While Hogan, who resembles the old Junior Samples character in Hee Haw, has granted a few interviews to Texas Observer and Fort Worth Star Telegram, Hanna says Hogan recently told him he's not going to do any more interviews. He notes NBC requested an interview, but Hogan wanted no part of it.
[Hairballs learned late Friday Hogan is planning to allow an interview with Tarleton State University station KTRL on its Crosstimbers Ag Show later this month. Hogan's daughter attends Tarleton State.]
Noah M. Horwitz, one of the editors of the influential political blog Texpatriate, requested an interview with Hogan but was rebuffed.
"I invited him and Friedman to sit down and discuss the issues," says Horwitz. "Hogan didn't just say 'No', he said 'Hell no.'
"At Texpatriate we try to stay on top of who the candidates are, what their positions are, and hopefully put voters in a position to make an informed voting decision. But in Hogan's case, we really have very little idea who he is or what he stands for."
Hanna says he was horrified when he attempted to determine Hogan's position vis a vis public school lunch programs, which are overseen by the Agriculture Commissioner.
"He said what poor people need to do is plant gardens and that would solve a lot of problems with the lunch programs," Hanna recalls. "I couldn't believe he was serious, that he would even say that, but he was dead serious."
Johnson County Democratic Party secretary LuAnne Leonard said she was stunned when Hanna related details of his interview to her.
"The kids in the lunch program here are from low-income families and a majority of them live in apartments, so I was flabbergasted when I heard the 'plant gardens' statement. Hogan really has no clue."
Hanna and Leonard make plain that they won't support Hogan or vote for him and doubt other Johnson County Democratic functionaries will either. Out of 1,204 votes in the Johnson County primary, Hogan beat Friedman by 55 votes, 561 to 506. (Fitzsimons garnered 147. Hogan did even better in Houston/Harris County, polling 42 percent to Friedman's 33 percent)
"I asked Jim about some of the issues that face us and he said he wasn't even thinking about specifics right now," Hanna explains. "His idea is wait to see if he gets elected, then he'll worry about researching the problems that need to be addressed. I was just dumbfounded when he said that was his strategy, if you want to call that a strategy."
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Leonard, a Cleburne resident who says she didn't know Hogan personally until he came into Democratic Party offices and announced that he was thinking of running for the agriculture spot, says Friedman may be a maverick, but his record and philosophy are much more in line with the party than Hogan's.
"Jim's got that b.s. 'Who Is Jim Hogan' website, which I assume is operated by his daughter," says Leonard. "But even folks right here in his home town have no idea why he's running."
"We interviewed Friedman, and when you sit down with him and get past the persona and the show-business aspects, for all his sins of the past you realize here is a very smart, caring, decent man."
"Jim Hogan doesn't have a plan to help anyone or anything, and he's anything but a Democrat, " she notes. "He's just making a mockery of the whole process. That ain't right."