Kinky Friedman, bestselling mystery novelist and lead singer of the Texas Jewboys, ran a bombastic 2006 Texas gubernatorial campaign that made national headlines, raised funds with the help of Jimmy Buffett and Willie Nelson, and generated plenty of catchy one-liners such as, “The first thing I'll do if elected is demand a recount.” He received less than 13 percent of the vote as an independent candidate, which convinced him this time to run as a Democrat—discussing policy instead of making punchlines—in the 2010 election. He claims that primary polls show him in first place, ahead of Republican incumbent Rick Perry.
“[Rick Perry] fast-tracked the execution of this innocent guy, Cameron Todd Willingham. That’s blood on his Christian hands. There are plenty of innocent people in this corrupt justice system, but Rick is more concerned with protecting that system.”
“If Jesus Christ ran as an independent, he would need a ton of money,” Friedman says, when asked why he failed to replicate the electoral success of celebrities-turned-politicians such as Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Al Franken. “When you run as an independent, the system marginalizes you: won’t let you debate, won’t even put your name on the ballot in the same place as the major-party candidates. The last guy who won Texas as an independent was Sam Houston a hundred years ago. Revolutions ain’t free; they cost money. As for Jesse Ventura, Minnesota is a strange state.”
In 2006, Friedman criticized the two-party system as corrupt and ineffective. He defends his new approach on pragmatic grounds, and insists he is not beholden to the party line.
Benjamin Sarlin: Texas Republican Smackdown
“I haven’t compromised, I’ve seen the light,” Friedman says. “The basis of the Democratic Party’s success was populism—they stood up for people—but the career politicians who run the Democratic Party in Texas have lost every race since Ann Richards. They always run on demographics, not ideas. I’m trying to offer them a new model.” He supports “term limits and publicly funded elections” to “get the money out of politics,” but for now he’ll throw his cowboy hat into the two-party ring.
He admits it’s difficult to strike the right balance between the irreverence that scores headlines and the solemnity that engenders respectability. “You need to be flamboyant to have a chance,” Friedman says, “but when you’re too flamboyant people say you’re not serious. Attitudes have changed though; people are listening now. Obama taught us that excitement equals turnout and your vote matters.”
His major campaign issue is ending the death penalty, which he criticizes Texas Gov. Rick Perry for wielding recklessly. “He fast-tracked the execution of this innocent guy, Cameron Todd Willingham,” Friedman says. “That’s blood on his Christian hands. There are plenty of innocent people in this corrupt justice system, but Rick is more concerned with protecting that system… I would set up a commission to go case by case through death row and see what really happened, who is really innocent, a commission with real power to reprimand judges who have plenty of money and power. It’s a question of whether people want to free Jesus this time, or execute more innocent people like him.”
Friedman’s dream is to reverse Texas’s reputation as the state with the most executions and least literacy in the country.
“We are at the top of everything we should be at the bottom of, and at the bottom of everything we should be at the top of, as far as statistics go,” Friedman says. “Texas does have an independent spirit, which doesn’t always manifest itself in politics because politicians have hijacked the power … Good people don’t get into politics; it’s very rare.”
For a Jewish guy, Friedman mentions Jesus quite often. “He had some really good ideas, and was thoroughly misunderstood by mankind,” Friedman says. “Politicians go to church and peddle this religiosity, and it hasn’t served us very well. I like what Thomas Paine said: The world is my country and to do good is my religion. I’m a Gandhi-like figure; the only currency I value is the coin of the spirit.”
Friedman’s compassion extends to the animal kingdom. He is the founder of Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, which saves thousands of stray animals. “We adopt dogs and horses and donkeys, save them from death’s door,” Friedman says. “I want to make Texas a no-kill state: Dogs, cats, horses, and even humans.” He is not a vegetarian, however, so it’s kosher to eat your chicken quesadilla with Kinky’s Private Stock Salsa.
His most recent book, Kinky’s Celebrity Pet Files, spotlights his famous friends’ various critters. Those friends include writers, musicians and presidents. “Bill Clinton is a real genius who leads from the heart,” Friedman says. “Politics should be more like when Bill and George 41 went to the tsunami area together after Katrina.” As for George 43, Friedman is more critical. “If he hadn’t listened to Karl Rove and Dick Cheney—if he had listened to Kinky Friedman or Colin Powell or Laura or his daddy—things would have been very different.” (He is “very fond of Laura; I think she’s great.”)
As for what it’s like to hang out with a sitting president, Friedman says, “It’s pretty fuckin’ cool.”
Marty Beckerman is the author of Generation S.L.U.T. (MTV Books) and Dumbocracy (Disinformation). He has written for Playboy, Discover, Radar and Huffington Post. His Web site is www.MartyBeckerman.com.