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Kinky Friedman says "I can't screw things up any worse than they already are."

Kinky Friedman says I can't screw things up any worse than they already are.

As Friedman tries to prove his run for governor is more than a lark, people have been turning out for his events by the dozens in places such as Lufkin and by the hundreds in places such as Tyler. Author, Musician, and candidate for Governor of Texas, Kinky Friedman served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia in the 1960's.

Kinky Friedman says "I can't screw things up any worse than they already are."

Off-beat humor made him a popular musician and novelist, but some are taking Friedman's run for governor seriously

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

NEW BRAUNFELS - With an unlit stogie in his mouth and a Sharpie in his left hand, independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman eagerly signed T-shirts and posters for fans and hoped-for voters with "Love, the Gov!"

And the unconventional candidate known as "The Kinkster" has been feeling the love across Texas ever since the Legislature's failure to pass public school reform this summer.

As Friedman tries to prove his run for governor is more than a lark, people have been turning out for his events by the dozens in places such as Lufkin and by the hundreds in places such as Tyler.

"Remember, the Legislature is the joke, not our campaign," Friedman told a crowd in the Faust Hotel bar in New Braunfels. "I think we've got a real, real shot."

Friedman a comically satirical singer, songwriter and novelist has become the hottest odd political phenomenon in Texas since high school teacher Victor Morales climbed into a white pickup and won the 1996 Democratic U.S. Senate nomination with the slogan "¿Y porque no?" ("Why not?"). He lost to incumbent Republican Phil Gramm.

Friedman's slogans are "Why the hell not?" and "How hard can it be?" He's appeared on CBS and Bill Maher's HBO show, as well as in The New Yorker. Not bad for a guy who's not even guaranteed a place on the Texas ballot next year.

Karen Roberts, the Democratic chairwoman in Tyler, said hundreds turned out for Friedman's event there because he is seen as an alternative to Gov. Rick Perry and his Republican primary opponent, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

She said Democrat Chris Bell is not yet well known enough to be that alternative.

While betting on Bell, Roberts said, she is looking forward to having Friedman in the race. "I think he's going to make this governor's race one of the most fun we've had in years," Roberts said.

Another 'Pappy'?
Republican activist Betty Sterquell, 77, of Amarillo, said there are Friedman bumper stickers across her city. Sterquell attended her first gubernatorial inauguration in 1939 for another singer-turned-politician, "Pappy" Lee O'Daniel.

"We all thought he was goofy with his 'Pass the biscuits, Pappy' and his Light Crust Doughboys, and he just walked away with it," Sterquell said.

"Everybody is laughing about (Friedman), but they say he could probably do just about as well as the people who are there now," she said.

Friedman said he thinks people are desperate for a change from politics as usual.

"I'm not as serious as the people I'm meeting," he said. "They're taking me seriously."

Options for schools
Friedman, 60, appears at his events wearing a black cowboy hat and a black fringe vest given to him by singer Waylon Jennings.

It's a throwback to his days as the leader of Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, a"redneck rock" band. In more recent years, he has thrived as the author of murder mysteries that feature himself as the central character.

His campaign speech is a populist's grumble about the state of the state of Texas. He says Perry and other state leaders care more about politics than policy while he emphasizes what he describes as failures in the public education system.

Friedman proposes raising money for public schools by selling naming rights to sports facilities, casino gambling on a local option basis and by putting slot machines in all the bars in Texas.

"I'm a gambler, and now I'm betting on Texas," Friedman says.

Comparisons to Richards
The crowd at the Faust is like Friedman's campaign, kind of hard to put your finger on. The people, mostly older than 50, always numbered about 80, but many came and went. Some were just in the bar to drink. Others were there to support Friedman. Still more drifted in from a wedding reception.

Charlotte Holland, 72, a retired courthouse worker in New Braunfels, showed up with her voter-registration card, eager to show her willingness to sign a petition to get Friedman on the ballot.

Others were Democrats wistfully wishing for the days of wisecracking Gov. Ann Richards.

"Texas needs a change, a big change. I don't think we've had a governor since Ann," said Betty Cantrell, 73, of Canyon Lake. "In my heart, I don't think he (has a chance to win), but I want to back him."

Selling toys and golf
Friedman so far is financing his campaign one souvenir sale at a time.

His campaign already has raised more than $85,000 in a promotion to give $100 donors a talking Kinky Friedman action figure that spouts some of his one-liners.

Made in China, the Friedman dolls er, action figures should start arriving in Texas later this month.

The idea for the promotion came from the campaign's chief consultant, Dean Barkley, who ran former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura's successful run for Minnesota governor using similar gimmicks.

Fundraising will not always be on a T-shirt-and-poster basis, though. Barkley said the campaign ultimately will need about $10 million to win.

A special golf event is scheduled for Saturday at the Austin-area ranch of singer-songwriter Willie Nelson, with Ventura as the special guest. Twenty players who pay $5,000 each will get to play golf with the threesome. An additional 100 people will get to have lunch with them for $1,000. Barkley said another major money-raising event probably will be held later featuring either Nelson or music legend Bob Dylan. Friedman used to tour with Dylan.

Battle to get on ballot
The biggest obstacle for Friedman's run for the Governor's Mansion is getting on the ballot.

State law requires that he get 45,540 voters' signatures between March 8 and May 11 from people who do not cast a ballot in any party primary or runoff.

Petition captains are signing up through his Internet site, Barkley said he hopes to gather 100,000 signatures with volunteers and 50,000 more from paid petition-drive specialists.

Friedman said the campaign is about something other than winning.

"What I'm trying to do is restore pride in Texas. This is not about Perry. It's about a lot of things bigger than Perry," he said.

And if he does win?

"I can't screw things up any worse than they already are."

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Story Source: Houston Chronicle

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