2006.08.21: August 21, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Malaysia: Writing - Malaysia: Humor: Election2006 - Friedman: Newspaper Tree: An Interview with Kinky Friedman

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An Interview with Kinky Friedman

An Interview with Kinky Friedman

"I've never been involved in politics. I've been involved in truth telling basically. Running for governor is just an extension of writing the books and playing music. I'm more in touch with people than any politician ever born, because I'm not one. This is the right time. The Democrats are tired of slaving on the plantation with nothing to show for it and the Republicans are mad as hell. They want to see us do it honestly instead of spending time on gay marriage or cheerleading legislation. There's a big gap between the people and the politicians." Author, Musician, and candidate for Governor of Texas, Kinky Friedman served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia in the 1960's.

An Interview with Kinky Friedman

Kinky Friedman: A Texas Twister of a Candidate
by Sito Negron


NPT: You must get this all the time. What makes you think you have a chance to win?

Friedman: That's pretty obvious. In virtually every poll, from all over the state, we've really kicked Rick Perry's ass, including the new poll in Midland , which is as you know George Bush's hometown. This has been pretty much the way it's been. The only poll Perry wins is the likely voter poll and that represents only 29 percent of people. This election is going to be much bigger.

NPT: How long do you think it will take before you're taken seriously as a candidate, and we in the media and the public at large stops asking that question?

Friedman: I think we already are taken seriously by everybody but the politicians. The poll and the pundits don't take us seriously, but the people do. Look at the Dallas Business Journal, for instance. They're not our polls. Look at the paper in Victoria, Texas, which asked the question, and got 85 percent for Kinky, 15 for Rick Perry. He's had his chance and its time for a change and everyone in Texas is ready for a non-politician for governor.

NPT: Do you think prior experience in dealing with large organizations is important to the job of governor, and if so, how will you overcome your lack of experience if you win?

Friedman: Right now, the system is not functioning. Right now they're robbing us with fountain pens, these crooks who live in Austin ! Right now the lottery money is not going to education like it is in Georgia, for instance, where every kid with a ‘b' average goes to college free. Another issue: People who bought license plates, who thought the money was going to parks and wildlife, it isn't, it's going to the general fund to balance the budget. My lack of experience is a plus; between the other candidates, who are good decent people -- Strayhorn, Perry, Bell -- they have 89 years of politics between them. That is exactly what the Founding Fathers didn't want America to become.

NPT: Yet it is, and not only is it, it's so entrenched. Look at what Rick Perry can't get done, and it's his party in charge. How can you change that?

Friedman: I can charm the pants off these legislators much better than he can, and I will bring in people. Willie Nelson is ready to go with biodiesel coops, farmers' coops all over the state to make a biofuels industry, to lead the parade not follow it. I admire Lance Armstrong because he's managed to irritate the French for seven years in a row. Lance and Willie will never have their hand in Texas' pocket, nor will Kinky Friedman. So I think what I'm saying is, get the politicians out of politics and then we'll get somewhere.

NPT: Politicians seem almost a necessary evil, like rich people.

Friedman: I don't think it is; there's always some crooks in there. Right now if you came up with a good idea it wouldn't get implemented; there's just the Crips and the Bloods. There aren't people involved who just care what's best for Texas. We need a good shepherd.

NPT: How much money have you raised? Are you benefiting in any way from the publicity -- more book sales, etc?

Friedman: In a one-word answer, no. I'm not benefiting from anything, any more than I was before. I might be selling a bit better; I haven't seen any windfalls. How much money have we raised? I'd say $3 (million) to $4 million. Not near the amount of Perry or Strayhorn. (But) there's more coming in and people are helping us, like Jimmy Buffet coming to play a fund-raiser. A guy like Jimmy Buffet is richer than God and the only reason he's doing it is that he believes in the environment and he believes in me. He's not doing it as an investment. People give money to Rick Perry, and that's not a contribution, it's an investment. How can Perry be interested in biofuel when he's married to the power lobby? That's why your electric bill is up 80 percent in his administration.

NPT: Just based on anecdotes, there appears to be a lot of support out there for a non-traditional candidate.

Friedman: Well, we look at Joe Lieberman's race as very significant. One, the incumbent lost, and two, 50 percent more people voted then expected. If that happens here in Texas it's a landslide for us. Perry is praying it's a small turnout. That's his only chance. This is not personal. I don't hate Rick Perry. It's not Kinky vs. Rick Perry, it's Kinky vs. apathy.

NPT: Almost everything publicized about your candidacy has been positive, which seems like an amazing feat for a self-described Texas Jewboy who has such positions as supporting gay marriage. How do you get away with that in Texas and still have such a high level of popularity? Is there a danger that your support has been "self-selecting," and when the race heats up if you're taken seriously you'll take a different type of heat, that you won't be able to joke it off?

Friedman: Our media guru, who is Jesse Ventura's guy, Bill Hillsman, says the true situation now is between all these polls, there are now 15-20 of them, and the likely voter polls where Perry is about 35 and we're at 21. Somewhere between the two is the truth. We also can measure against Jesse Ventura, where the summer before his election he was at 7 points. We don't need to go much higher if the turnout is significant. I'm not going to become a self-important politician. The circus needs clowns like donkeys need elephants. Will Rogers said the politicians were the greatest jokers of all. Every time they made a joke it turned into law and every time they made a law it turned into a joke.

NPT: What do you know about El Paso, other than that we have a lot of assholes here?

Friedman: I played that song the last time I was there, for a benefit for the cancer institute. The other candidates seem to have humor bypasses. A sense of humor, integrity, and creativity -- those are things musicians have that politicians don't.

NPT: Seriously, do you have any specific knowledge of El Paso .

Friedman: Very little. I enjoyed being there several times. It reminds me of Australia -- how Australia is in the world El Paso is to Texas. I'm getting tired of these big cities; they all feel the same. Not that El Paso isn't a big city. It feels different, like Perth or Honolulu, isolated enough to be its own place. And they think their own way and that always makes for a bit of a good time. In general I enjoy campaigning with Hispanics. It's more fun and their food is better.

NPT: I've seen that line in other stories about you.

Friedman: It's true. People ask me, ‘How are you going after Hispanics?' I tell them I don't eat tamales in the barrio, chicken in a black church and bagels with Jews. If you ain't Texan I ain't got time for you, and I'm telling you most Hispanics agree with me. They're tired of these politicians going out of their way not to offend them. Hispanics want the same thing everybody else does, education for their kids, job security and above all the truth from politicians, and that's the hardest one to get. Nobody likes to be pandered to and patronized. Jesse Ventura gave me the advice, ‘Be yourself and nobody will have to remember who you are.' Jesse's a smart boy. He made Minnesota number one in health. Minnesota Care, they tax hospitals, insurance companies, and medical procedures and that creates a floating fund that has paid for every man, woman and child. I would like to adopt that as Texas Care, with a few things from Hawaii, Massachusetts and Vermont.

NPT: Your family moved here when you were a kid. Has anyone attacked your "Texasness," and how will you defend it? A Jewish liberal from Austin via Chicago running for governor of Texas sounds almost like a Saturday Night Live skit.

Friedman: I'm not a liberal, believe me. I'm a compassionate redneck, far more conservative than I am liberal. I'm 61, too old for Medicare, too young for women to care. A liberal I'm not. I do ask the question, who would Jesus deport? My basic immigration policy is remember the Alamo . If we can't guard the border better then we're doing forget it. Organized crime and syndicates are trafficking people and drugs and guns and they're sophisticated and have no regard for human life.

The fact that I'm Jewish hasn't even popped up. The Baptists love it. I talked to a far-right Christian in Austin , he said ‘My name is George, I'm one of the Far Right who holds back legalized gambling.' I asked him why he supported me: Is it my position on Israel, the 10 Commandments, prayer in school? He said, ‘No, you're going to answer the phone.' Most conservatives, they don't care about gay marriage and flag burning, they just want to hold onto their money. Small business is getting taxed. It's a shell game, instead of facing issues directly ... for example, to pay for education, you have to have a dedicated stream. Legalized gambling will produce $6 (billion) to $8 billion a year. The Lottery all went to the politicians and the lobbyists. That's why you see this campaign from the Lottery that claims the money goes to education. Why the campaign? Because every Texan knows it's a lie.

NPT: On your Website, you talked about meeting with other border governors to outline an overall strategy. What are your ideas about what that strategy ought to be? What do you think of militarizing the border?

Friedman: I don't have all the answers. I'm already in discussion with (N.M.) Gov. Bill Richardson, and I'll talk to (Ariz. Gov.) Jeannette Napolitano. (Perry) has never talked to them. Why is the only policy he has to put cameras in the border? Why has he swept this under the rug for six years? I'm telling you, political reasons. So I don't have all the answers but there are a lot of people that haven't been brought into play. I want to know what (Sen.) John McCain thinks, what ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza thinks. ... The Mexican government is to blame. They and the oil company Pemex make Mexico a very rich state that doesn't take care of its people.

NPT: Some thought has been put into your political reform agenda and other elements of your platform. When did you put these things together? Had it been brewing over the years, did it come together when you decided to run, and how much help did you have putting it together?

Friedman: I've never been involved in politics. I've been involved in truth telling basically. Running for governor is just an extension of writing the books and playing music. I'm more in touch with people than any politician ever born, because I'm not one. This is the right time. The Democrats are tired of slaving on the plantation with nothing to show for it and the Republicans are mad as hell. They want to see us do it honestly instead of spending time on gay marriage or cheerleading legislation. There's a big gap between the people and the politicians.

NPT: How would you deal with a conservative Republican Legislature for which many of your programs are anathema, given the power of the lt. governor and speaker of the house positions?

Friedman: I don't let the Legislature lead Texas. Let the people lead Texas. I'd have the Legislature over to the governor's mansion. We'd smoke Cuban cigars we'd have a barbecue. We'd get along. The lieutenant governor does the heavy lifting but the governor needs to do the spiritual lifting and Rick Perry isn't doing that. Roosevelt, Kennedy .... they used the bully pulpit. If they were around today they would tell Texas the big issues are education, immigration and environment, all of which have been ignored for political reasons. That's why Rick Perry threw the teachers a $1,500-a-year court-ordered crumb.

NPT: What is your position on drug laws? Too harsh? Too soft?

Friedman: Too harsh, and I think our prisons are filled with non-violent druggies. We don't have room to put baddies in there any more. As Woodie Guthrie said, ‘The more laws you make the more criminals you're going to have.'

NPT: You may break through this, but until then, in the current political paradigm we have, some of your positions are very red, and some very blue. Can it work?

Friedman: I think compassionate redneck hits it. I like to keep them confused. I'll tell you very few conservatives like me on gay marriage, but they take that because I'm for prayer in school as well and they know they're not going to find another candidate who has those two things and is telling the truth about it. That's why Jesse was elected, not on any one issue but because people believed he was talking from the heart.

By the way Jesse will be here talk to college campuses in September. He refused to meet a lobbyist the entire time he was governor and I'll do the same.

It's a privilege to be running and it makes me proud. I've seen the sea change, from people saying, ‘Are you serious?' -- that hasn't happened in six months -- to now they're thanking me for running and they're very sincere.

When this story was posted in August 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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The purpose of Peace Corps' screening and medical clearance process is to ensure safe accommodation for applicants and minimize undue risk exposure for volunteers to allow PCVS to complete their service without compromising their entry health status. To further these goals, PCOL has obtained a copy of the Peace Corps Screening Guidelines Manual through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and has posted it in the "Peace Corps Library." Applicants and Medical Professionals (especially those who have already served as volunteers) are urged to review the guidelines and leave their comments and suggestions. Then read the story of one RPCV's journey through medical screening and his suggestions for changes to the process.

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