If Minnesota can elect a former wrestler as state governor, and California a movie star action hero, then why can't a country music singer find similar political success in Texas? Entertainer Kinky Friedman hopes to follow in the footsteps of Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and win his state's highest elective office in next year's election. And while he has earned a reputation for irreverent humor over the years, the independent candidate has a lot of serious ideas about how and why he wants to change things in Texas.
You could say Kinky Friedman brings two solid bases of voter support to his campaign for governor. The first is the cult following he started building in the 1970s as a self-styled Texas Jewish country singer. More recently, he's won yet another group of fans as a mystery writer, penning novels about an amateur detective named Kinky Friedman, who's been transplanted from Texas to New York. But he's just published what he says will be the last book in the series, Ten Little New Yorkers, and he believes literature's loss will be politics' gain.
"This is my 17th mystery, far more than I ever thought I would write," he says." And having to come up with the corpse in the library and the usual suspects gets very tedious. And I think the last governor's race irritated me. The two candidates spent over $100 million dollars just for negative campaign ads for a job that pays only a $100,000 dollars. The Democrats came up with a good idea--the Republicans shot it down. And I think running as an independent will be a very unusual thing to do, since it hasn't been done since 1859 when Sam Houston ran as an independent. It's a long time between dreams."
If Sam Houston dreamed of freeing Texas from Mexican rule, Kinky Friedman's dreams are about moving his state in a new direction. "Texas is first in executions and 49th in funding public education," he notes. "We're in a race for the bottom with Mississippi, and we're winning. So I think I can do better."
Kinky Friedman is no stranger to social causes. He once served as a Peace Corps volunteer, and he now runs an animal rescue ranch. His songs often deal with prejudice, hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness, and they have been called as thought-provoking as they are outrageous. Don't expect him to stop being funny just because he's running for public office. "Humor is the weapon I use to attack the windmill of politics as usual," says Candidate Friedman. "And that's the windmill I'm going to knock down."
Like any good politician-or "un-politician" as he prefers to be called--Kinky Friedman has a campaign web site, caps and T-shirts for sale, and a platform with something to appeal to liberals and conservatives alike. While he is Jewish by birth, he describes himself as Judeo Christian in spirit, and he's all for prayer in public schools. "I think there's nothing wrong with a kid believing in something," he declares. "I'm embarrassed that people are embarrassed to say 'Merry Christmas.' Especially to me--people will say, 'Merry Christmas, Kinky! Oh, I'm sorry, you're Jewish. I didn't realize. I shouldn't have said that.' Ridiculous."
And while Kinky Friedman says he is not against the death penalty, he believes it is handed out too freely in Texas. "All we have is eject or inject," he says. "We don't have life without the possibility of parole, and some innocent people--one of them, Max Soffar, who's been on death row 23 years, is now getting a new trial. Now it's a crime enough to railroad somebody to death row, but it's really a crime to let them rot there for 23 years in solitary when you know there's no evidence against them."
Kinky Friedman needs to get 50,000 signatures in a petition drive to qualify for the 2006 governor's race. He says public response has been great so far. He is even getting help from another famous Texas country singer, Willy Nelson, whom he describes as his "energy adviser."
"He's promoting bio-diesel, which is going to be a very big thing," says the would-be governor. "It's vegetable oil. It's 80 cents cheaper per gallon than regular gas, and in ten years gas will be a dollar a drop. I think Texans are literally drooling for something new. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was going to get rid of the career politicians in California and he did, and I want to do the same thing in Texas. And after that I want to get rid of the Californians in Texas."
Kinky Friedman says he can identify with a politician like Arnold Schwarzenegger. "I think everybody in Texas does," he adds. "I think we all see in this day and age that a politician who's been around forever is a bad thing. A musician would be better. A state run by musicians would be excellent. I have only two political connections. I'm the only man who's slept in the White House under two Presidents-Bill Clinton and George W. (Bush)."
While Kinky Friedman claims both Presidents Clinton and Bush as fans, he says he has no other political ties, and he does not want any. "I want to find that place that's above politics and take us there," he says. "Besides, I need the closet space."
More clues about why Kinky Friedman wants to move into that spacious governor's mansion in Austin can be found in the plot of his final mystery, Ten Little New Yorkers. His hero is tired of the big city, ready to get back to his Texas roots and start a new chapter in life. As for his prospects of doing that, Kinky Friedman says Texans love a rebel and an underdog, and he is convinced he'll surprise everyone next year.