When I first read that Kinky Friedman was thinking about running for Governor as an independent in 2006, I thought he was kidding, even though he insisted otherwise. Well, he's still talking about it, and I have to say, he sounds more and more like a plausible candidate to me.
However ambiguous his public monologue is, a recent conversation at his modest home in Bandera revealed that Kinky had been mulling over the idea of a political career for some time.
"The answer to that question is [political commentator] Molly Ivins' answer, 'Why the hell not?' I ran into her at the Texas Book Festival in November and told her I was running. She said, 'Why are you running?' And I said, 'Why the hell not?' She said, 'That's beautiful, that's your campaign slogan.'"
A near-death experience several years ago also prompted him to rethink his life. "I was caught on this cliffside in Cabo San Lucas one night. I spent the whole night there and I didn't know if I'd survive or not," he says in a serious tone. "I was thinking about what I'd do if I lived. So, this race is not really against Rick Perry. It's against the system and the stagnant status quo and all the politicians who've been there so long they forgot why they're there. It was during that time I decided - I didn't decide specifically to run for governor - but I decided that there might be something more to my life than what I was doing. And later I realized that we have a very colorful state, we should have a very colorful governor."
In 1986, he ran for elected office for the first time, when he campaigned for Justice of the Peace in Kerrville. He lost. "I don't know why I lost that election, but my fellow Kerrverts returned me to the private sector. I'm not bitter about that."
Although he had long thought about challenging career politicians, the 2003 political climate confirmed what Friedman had recognized for a long time: Voters are ready for change. Inspired by Howard Dean's rise from unknown doctor/governor to initial frontrunner and Arnold Schwarzenegger's dethroning of California Governor Gray Davis, Friedman feels the political arena is ready for a candidate like him.
The next gubernatorial election is in 2006, and by March of that year Friedman will need to have collected 45,000 signatures to run as an independent candidate. With the support of friends ranging from George W. Bush to Molly Ivins to Willie Nelson, he is confident he can pull it off. "Now I'm not saying that a big Pat Green concert or a Willie Nelson concert is gonna translate to votes any more than Dennis Kucinich is gonna benefit from Willie. But, I do think there's more of that happening now. I think there's a Howard Dean effect that's already taken place. It energizes the base, which is something you certainly can't say about the current situation. There's nobody out there energized, just a bunch of sheep pulling a lever on a voting machine."
Friedman has ideas that could materialize into programs, without the consent of the Texas legislature, and he has the celebrity friends who could make his ideas possible. "I have a program, which Pat Green's mother, Nancy, has come up with, called the Texas Peace Corps, and that is not an oxymoron." Friedman's Texas Peace Corps would mobilize the Texas music community, Kinky says, making role models of popular musicians like Pat Green and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Aside from building his Texas Peace Corps, Kinky says he would use his connections with friends Johnny Depp, Robert Duvall, and Billy Bob Thornton to further define Texas' role in the filmmaking industry to aid the state's economy. But outside of the arts, Kinky is reluctant to talk about the issues. "There are some subjects - like abortion, like gun control, like the death penalty - which I could give you a really articulate discussion on. I could take either side and all I'd do is lose 50 percent of the people. And furthermore, the governor has very little impact on any of these issues. What I think of Iraq is irrelevant. What Rick Perry thinks of Iraq is meaningless; he can do nothing."
Given the governor's lack of power, Friedman would focus on softer programs like the Texas Peace Corps. "There will be more ideas like that," he says, "The lieutenant governor does the heavy lifting, everybody knows that. The governor should do the spiritual lifting."
In addition to being compared to other political dilettantes, Friedman will have to prove that he can compete with Perry and other candidates. What he lacks in political experience, he compensates for in his colorful and varied life. "The human experience I've had is much broader than the other candidates, if Kay Bailey [Hutchison] runs. Her experience is very narrow, very political, and it's loaded with Washington crap. Rick Perry has Gray Davis potential, enormous Gray Davis potential."