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Malaysia RPCV Kinky Friedman for Texas governor?
Malaysia RPCV Kinky Friedman for Texas governor?
Kinky Friedman for Texas governor?
By RALPH BLUMENTHAL
New York Times
MEDINA, Texas -- As a campaign slogan, it leaves something to be desired: "Why the hell not?"
But Kinky Friedman, the irreverent Texas author, songwriter and salsa maker, and self-described "Gandhi-like figure" at the animal rescue ranch he runs here in the hill country west of San Antonio, says the message could propel him into the governor's mansion in Austin.
The election is not until 2006, when Gov. Rick Perry, the Republican incumbent, will presumably run again. But that has not kept Friedman from dreaming of a grass-roots army to collect the 45,000 signatures that an independent candidate needs to run, or from printing bumper stickers reading, "He Ain't Kinky, He's My Governor."
Anyway, the job -- heavy on ceremony in Texas, where the real power lies in the lieutenant governor's authority to control the Senate agenda -- does not daunt the curly-mopped Friedman, whose real name is Robert and who gives his age as 59, though adding, "I read at the 61-year level." Given those who have come before him, he said, "how hard could it be?"
Still, garbed in cowboy black, bearing a large silver Star of David on a chain and tooling around in an old white Nissan pickup with a Don Quixote statuette on the dashboard and chewed stubs of Cuban cigars in the ashtray, Friedman does acknowledge some ambivalence about his quest. This is his second run for elected office: in the first, in 1986, he campaigned for justice of the peace in nearby Kerrville, where "my fellow Kerrverts returned me to the private sector."
This is a man who, once he makes up his mind, is riven by indecision. So, he is often asked, is he serious? "Serious is not a word I would use, because I'm never serious," he said. "Some things are too important to be taken seriously." But, he said, "an alarming number of people think I could win."
"The question," he added, "is whether my candidacy is a joke, or the current crop of politicians is the joke."
Never married and amorously linked over the years to a number of beauties, including a former Miss Texas, Friedman said, "I have no skeletons in my closet; the bones are all bleaching down at the beach."
He is a charismatic speaker, if he has to say so himself, and has been invited to be the winter commencement speaker next month at his alma mater, the University of Texas. "I'm good for five minutes of superficial charm," he said, "after which I can see the pity forming in men's eyes."
He also does a whimsical back-page column for Texas Monthly magazine. Disdaining computers and the Internet as "the work of Satan," he writes it on an electric typewriter, rarely revising as he goes. (Thanks to a computer-literate friend, he does, however, maintain a sophisticated Web site, www.kinkyfriedman.com.)
His new campaign, he said, has won some encouragement from President Bush, a previous occupant of the Statehouse, whom Friedman calls a great admirer of his books, mostly comic mysteries with titles like "The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover." He quoted the president as calling Friedman his favorite fiction writer. "'Course," he said, "George is not all that voracious a reader." He said Bush had also volunteered to be his "one-man focus group" for the campaign.
A White House official confirmed that the president had read the Friedman oeuvre, but declined to say whether Bush had gone so far as to offer his services as a campaign sounding board. At a recent White House dinner, Friedman indeed told the president that he was running, the official said, but Bush replied that he could not endorse him until he knew Friedman's platform.
That, Friedman said, is an easy one. He wants to make the declawing of cats illegal.
"People who think this is frivolous should come back as a cat," he said. "I'd be a Buddhist, except for Richard Gere."
He wants to make Texas a moviemaking capital with help from friends like Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton. He is against political correctness -- witness his 1970s band, the Texas Jewboys; their biggest hit, "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore"; and his cowboy ballad "Ride 'em Jewboy," perhaps the only country music Holocaust song.
Of gun control, he said, "I don't carry a weapon, so anyone who wants to shoot me will have to bring his own gun." He is not sure about abortion, though he proudly claims to have written what he calls the only pro-choice country song, "Rapid City, South Dakota." For the time being, he is prepared to dodge the question, declaring, "I'm not right to life, I'm not pro-choice, I'm pro football."
He was originally for the war in Iraq, he said, and argued with Willie Nelson about it. "He's a tyrannical bully," he told Nelson, "and we got to take him out."
"No," he says Nelson objected, "he's our president, and we got to stick by him."
In a Friedman administration, he said, Nelson would lead the Texas Rangers, unless he was called to Washington to head the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The campaign has won the support of the author Molly Ivins, who inspired his slogan when she asked why he was running. "Why the hell not?" he replied.
Ivins said in an interview, "I'm a great believer in entertainment in politics," adding that Texas had a tradition of singing governors. Friedman may not have much of a shot, she said, "but it's clear he's running, because he recently straightened his hair."
He did indeed, Friedman acknowledged, but the process -- undertaken by his Palestinian hairdresser, who would like to be the Texas ambassador to Israel -- revealed some alarming bald spots, so he happily returned the tangled mop under his black stetson to its natural state.
A campaign bio on Friedman might begin with his birth in Chicago and his early move to Texas after his father, a World War II navigator, returned home and, with Robert's mother, opened a children's camp here. A chess prodigy, Friedman at 7 played the grandmaster Sam Reshevsky, who won only with some trouble. He also wrote his first song, "Ol' Ben Lucas Had a Lot of Mucus." Inspired by President John F. Kennedy, he joined the Peace Corps after college and went to Borneo, where, he says, he taught farming to people who had farmed perfectly well for 2,000 years.
The success of his music and writing career has left him free to devote time to his Utopia Rescue Ranch, which shares the 500 acres of the summer camp left him by his parents and is a haven for some 60 homeless dogs, cats, donkeys, pigs and chickens. He supports it with charity fund-raisers, including one recently with the first lady, Laura Bush, and profits from his new Politically Incorrect brands of salsa and coffee.
His political campaign is a no-lose proposition, he said: "I'll either come out of it with a book, a wife or be governor."