Ignored by the state Democratic establishment like he was an Al-Qaeda terrorist wearing a bomb coat, Richard "Kinky" Friedman still managed to garner about 185,000 votes in the Democratic primary March 4. Friedman's vote total put him in second place with 37.7 percent of the vote and forced a late May runoff with Joe Hogan (190,200/38.8%).
The elephant-in-the-room question behind the final totals in the down-ballot race for Agriculture Commissioner is how far out of step with Democratic voters the state's top Democrats as well as metropolitan newspapers including Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News are. Hugh Asa Fitzsimons, a buffalo producer near San Antonio, got virtually all the public endorsements from both the Democratic hierarchy and other statewide candidates like Lieutenant Governor hopeful Leticia van de Putte, and from the major print newspapers and Democratic-oriented political blogs like Burnt Orange Report. Even Democratic maverick and former Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower endorsed Fitzsimons.
Yet with all the votes counted, the heavily endorsed Fitzsimons could only muster 23 percent of the Democratic vote statewide in the three-man race, illustrating beyond all doubt how out of touch with rank-and-file Democrats the state's major media outlets and top Democratic honchos and strategists are.
Of course, marijuana is the issue that makes people like gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, Hightower, Lon Burnam, van de Putte, and Davis's handlers, Matt and J.D. Angle of Fort Worth, run from Friedman as if he carried leprosy. The carefully worded, inoffensive stance most of these luminaries have taken vis a vis Friedman's candidacy is that he's a nice guy but not serious about the race or the job. Some have called Friedman's candidacy a stunt.
The common denominator seems to be that none of them wants to risk appearing "soft on crime" by addressing Friedman's campaign or the issue of marijuana and what we're going to do about it in the future. Apparently none of them wants to think outside the box either.
The five Republicans vying for the position drew a total of 1,186,000 votes versus the three Democratic candidates who totaled 490,000. Former state representative Sid Miller, who authored the mandatory sonogram portion of Governor Perry's divisive abortion law that brought on the meteoric rise of Wendy Davis, is in a runoff with East Texan Tommy Merritt.
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The numbers make it obvious that any Democrat will have a tough battle to win the Ag Commissioner seat in the November general election. Hogan has mounted no campaign so far -- almost an anti-campaign -- and didn't even bother to reply to the Dallas Morning News candidate questionnaire during their endorsement vetting process. All he's really said so far is that he "isn't going to make any big promises." Pitting Hogan against Miller (the likely winner of the Republican runoff) will almost certainly end in the usual debacle for Democrats barring some smoking gun about Miller surfacing.
So why not endorse Friedman in the primary runoff? The Commissioner's office is almost certainly going Republican if Hogan is the Democratic candidate, so what's the harm in endorsing Friedman and his pro-legalization campaign? The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune polls show that a majority of the state reckons some form of decriminalization is on the horizon, and national trends indicate that many states will fully legalize marijuana in the next few years after the financial success of legalization in Washington and Colorado.
Friedman may not win, but he will force people to think through an important social, legal, and financial issue better dealt with sooner than later. For those who take the time to connect the dots in Friedman's plan from a financial standpoint, it's a no-brainer.
So Democrats have a tough choice in May: go with Hogan, who appears to be another good old boy who'll almost certainly go down in flames in November; or go with Friedman, who has more appeal across party lines and will certainly energize a portion of the electorate that isn't excited about the offerings of either party. With his plan to move toward legalization of marijuana and reintroduce hemp as an agricultural mainstay, Friedman has the potential to galvanize voters and potentially reshape world opinion about Texas, and that's what Democrats will need if they hope to end 20 years of Republican domination.