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Getting Kinky in Argyle

Getting Kinky in Argyle
By Stephen Webster
Investigative Reporter
For: The News Connection, The Lone Star Iconoclast
Publication date(s): April 28; May 2

According to Independent Gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman, Texas is in such bad shape that the electoral contest is no longer politician versus politician, where ideas compete for dominance among voters. Instead, the new theme of the battle for Texas Governor will come down to one rather simple human trait: apathy. The last Governor’s election in the state only drew 21 percent of registered voters to the polls. And the Democratic and Republican primaries, held this past March, resulted in a meager five percent turnout. “It is not about Kinky Friedman versus Rick Perry, or Kinky Friedman versus Carole Strayhorn,” insists Friedman. “It is about Kinky Friedman versus apathy. If we can get 21 percent up to 40 percent, I’m the Governor.”

The campaign's documentary film crew (left) rolls camera as I (middle) conduct my interview with The Kinkster Himself (right).
Photo by Annette Weir

Yes, Kinky is a character alright. Frequently appearing in boots with blue jeans, a black coat and a 10-gallon Stinson, Friedman is a man not afraid to light his cigar in public. However unconventional he may seem to some, his campaign has taken a much more serious tone over the last few months. Since he is running as an Independent, in order to get his name on the ballot, state law requires him to collect 45,540 signatures from registered voters who skipped the primary elections.

From the look of things, the Kinky Train has reached terminal velocity. Having collected over 100,000 signatures, all that remains is verification and certification by the Secretary of State. Then, the real campaign begins.

On Saturday, April 22, Kinky Friedman was at a private residence in Argyle for a fundraiser. The bluegrass band Baloney Moon entertained a crowd of about 60 people while this reporter sat down with the Kinkster for a one-on-one chat.

Stephen Webster, The News Connection: “So Kinky, tell me how your campaign is progressing.”

Kinky Friedman: “Well, I think it’s out of control, which is a good thing. The petition drive is doing very, very well. We’re very close to 100,000, but we may even be over that number. After [May 11] we’ll be on the ballot. From then on, I think the peasants are coming with pitchforks in November. I really do.”

TNC: “What kind of response have you been getting from mainline Republicans in Texas?”

KF: “Well, I don’t know who’s mainline and who’s not anymore. The people we meet are mad as hell and they’re not gonna take it anymore. I think an equal number of Republicans and Democrats have already come over to our side, and it is growing every day. We’ve got over 5,000 volunteers signed up on our website, but there are so many more than that. The petition drive process was designed to keep us off the ballot. In 147 years, no one has done it. And, ah, it is a daunting task because you can’t do it online. They don’t do anything to make it easy. Then, you’ve got to notarize the signatures as you go. But it has worked very well for us. The same device they tried to keep us off the ballot with has actually put us on the map. I think we’ve got a real grass-roots organization going, as opposed to [Independent candidate Carole] Strayhorn, who has spent a lot of money on this and hired several big, out of state firms to do it for her.”

TNC: “Lately, gas prices have been nearly unaffordable for a lot of Texans. Talk to me about ethanol and biodiesel production.”

KF: “This is something that Willie Nelson and I want to do together. When I’m Governor, the first thing I’ll do is put 35,000 school busses on biodiesel. Willie will be the energy chief, and in a very short amount of time he will have the eight or 10 percent of Texans we need on biodiesel. The way to do it, of course, is to help the biodiesel co-ops; build them all along the highways so farmers have work – fuel you can grow. Then we can be like Brazil: energy independent. Like Iceland. Like Penn State University, which is totally biodiesel run. It will give us a chance to be number one in renewable fuels, solar power, and wind power … To be number one in something besides executions, toll roads and property taxes. That is what Texas needs. And we can do it.”

"Ask not if you're proud of Texas," reads the shirt. "Ask if you've made Texas proud of you."
Photo by Stephen Webster

TNC: “Education reform is a big issue. What is the biggest problem facing the Texas education system?”

KF: “(sighs) Well, the human component is always important. A lot of politicians don’t care about education – especially public education. But, as LBJ said, ‘education is not a problem. Education is an opportunity.’ You’ve got to pay for that opportunity, and you can’t do it with one-time money, which they’re always trying to. You need a permanent revenue stream. The way to do that is legalize casino gambling. We invented Texas Hold ‘Em and we can’t even play it here! Its just not even common sense to let Oklahoma and New Mexico and Louisiana take all the money out of Texas. So, legalize casino gambling, take sports funding out of the education budget and let the corporate sector bid on high school stadiums and athletic directors. We have a plan called Trust for Texas Heroes which is a one percent surcharge on big gas and big oil. That’ll generate $2-3 billion a year. Add that to the $3-5 billion that casino gambling will bring in and you’ve got your $8 billion which you need. $8 billion would do it. That would raise teacher salaries up to the national average, maybe even higher. It would lower property taxes. It is what needs to be done. The only reason it is not being done right now is the far Religious Right in this state is holding it back. Just as the far politically-correct left wing of this state is making people feel uncomfortable when they say Merry Christmas. This state is too big to be held back by the far left and the far right.”

TNC: “You have proposed giving 15 percent of 2004’s property taxes back to the homeowners. What is wrong with our appraisal system?

KF: “Now its more than that. Now it is $82 billion, I understand. It wasn’t $4.3 billion. The latest figures are coming out, and it is over $8 billion. And the problem is that Carole Strayhorn [formerly the Texas state Comptroller of Public Accounts] can’t count right. I don’t know what else to say. She’s in charge of counting and she can’t count right. And it all happened under Rick Perry’s watch. She’s blaming him and he’s blaming her. Meanwhile they’re calling it a ‘budget surplus.’ Well, it ain’t a budget surplus, it is Texans being over taxed! Period! That’s exactly what it is and the money should go back to them. That’s what I think.”

TNC: “Are you aware of the issues we’ve had in Denton County with our appraisal system?”

KF: “No.”

TNC: “[The News Connection] has run a series of 20 articles dealing with that issue. Our appraisal district is simply over charging people. They seem to have no regard for that 10 percent cap on increased home evaluations. They’re taking homesteads and raising them 20, 30, even 50 percent anyway.”

KF: “Well, it is not a surprise. That doesn’t surprise me at all. But, I mean, $8 billion is a little shocking. We all know that property taxes are out of whack, but this is a bit much. I don’t think they are going to give that money back. They are going to spend it on frivolous things. I think the money should go back to the people who paid it.”

TNC: “You seem to have taken on a different tone in your campaign. At first you relied pretty heavily on what a lot of people were calling one-liners. Now, it seems that you really hit the issues and go in-depth on what you care about. What brought about that change?”

KF: “I think everybody in politics and the public eye uses one-liners. The other guys use ‘em too, but they’re just not as humorous and they’re not as memorable. So, when I say something like, ‘never re-elect anybody,’ well, there’s a bit of truth to that. If we never re-elected anybody we’d have what the founding fathers wanted. We’d have what George Washington wanted. What’s so bad about that? Why do you have people like Perry and Strayhorn hanging on to politics for 59 years? Putting them together, they have 59 years in political life. That’s way too much! That’s the problem. Those are the people that got the train off the track and into the ditch. You can’t expect that they’re gonna come back and fix it, can you? I mean, why would they? How could they? It has got to be someone from the outside who does it. I say, get the politicians out of politics. If we can do that, we’re on our way.”

After his speech, Friedmen spent most of his time talking to people, signing copies of his many mystery novels, and puffing on his cigar.
Photo by Stephen Webster

TNC: “You said that if you are elected, you will only serve one term.”

KF: “Yes. That’s all it will need.”

TNC: “Just one term?”

KF: “Yep. Besides, after that I’ll be too old. Right now, I’m 61: too young for medicare, too old for women to care.”

TNC: (Laughter)

KF: “But I care.”

TNC: “So, what other issues are key to your campaign?”

KF: “Political reform, criminal justice, the border and immigration – which everybody is now talking about. Even Rick Perry is talking about it. Of course, it is an election year. It is a positive thing that he’s discovered that we have a border with Mexico. That’s good. I fight against political correctness. This is not a joke. People have to decide if they think political correctness is important. If they do, they should vote for one of the other three candidates. All of them are very politically correct. They have to be. I don’t know. I value personal honesty and truth more.”

TNC: “What did you make of the 500,000 people marching through Dallas a couple weeks ago?”

KF: “Well, I was talking to Senator John McCain [R-AZ] a couple weeks ago - the first time I’d met him – over at A&M. I told him that I wasn’t afraid to offend people, and that’s why I thought I should be Governor. I’m not afraid of 500,000 Hispanics marching in Dallas. He says that is the biggest problem that we have; that politicians are afraid of offending anybody, so they don’t do anything and they don’t want to take a stand on anything or say anything. I have yet to meet a Hispanic, and I’ve talked to a lot of them, that doesn’t appreciate being told the truth, that doesn’t appreciate someone who cares about education. Education is the word. Educate their kids. They want a safe border. They want jobs. They don’t want their jobs taken away by illegals either. Most of them I talk to pretty much agree with John McCain. I pretty much fall between John McCain and [Governor] Bill Richardson [D-NM], two people that Rick Perry has not consulted at all. They believe that illegals should not get to the front of the line if they’ve cut in. People have died to get U.S. citizenship. People have waited a lifetime and still didn’t get it. What are we gonna do? Let 11 million people who have cut in line have a free pass? Absolutely not. They can be on the pathway to legalization, but we’re gonna make it difficult for them. It is not going to be easy. Then, they’ll get to the back of the line.”

TNC: “How did you feel about the felony provision of the Republican immigration bill, H.R. 4437?”

KF: “I don’t know much about it. They made it a felony, or it is a felony …You know, they’re getting screwed anyway. Everyone is getting screwed but [Mexican President] Vicente Fox. Just remember that, okay? He is doing well. He likes the system as it is. You’re familiar with the Five Mexican Generals plan? Well, I talked about that with George Bush Sr. and McCain. McCain already knew all about the Five Mexican Generals plan, so I told it to George Bush. He was kinda chuckling about it and McCain made an interesting observation about it. He leaned forward and said, ‘The Five Mexican Generals plan is probably better than anything we’ve got going right now. That’s what I’m talking about. This is not the sense of humor, even though McCain has one. This is truth. It is a better plan than what we’ve got going right now. All I’m saying is that we’re gonna have to think unconventionally. We’re gonna have to do something that is unconventional and compassionate. We don’t want people dying on the sidewalks in front of out hospitals, you know? Nor do we want to finance these people by ourselves. We want the Mexican government to step up and do their fair share. So, because Perry has swept it under the rug for six years, now we’re following New Mexico. Now we’re letting New Mexico work out the policy. One of the poorest, least-populates states in America has a visionary Governor, Bill Richardson, who happens to be a Democrat. And Texas will probably be adapting Bill Richardson’s policies as we move along. If we do, it’ll be a good thing. Except, we should have done it six years ago. They’ve got joint border patrols working. They’ve got federal money coming in. They’ve been focused on this for a year and a half, two years. I’ve been focused on it since last February, a year and a half ago almost. We’ve been talking about [a lot of] different programs, but it isn’t a one-way street, you know? Remember the Alamo. Lets defend our own borders here in Texas. Lets fix Texas first. I don’t like illegals getting screwed either. I don’t like anybody getting screwed. I don’t like the roofing contractor in Houston that works illegals then calls the border patrol when the payrolls are due. They just pick ‘em up and take ‘em back. That’s not fair. At the moment, we’ve got our work to do to make sure that Vicente Fox pays his share of what we’re now paying for healthcare, education and everything else.”

Friedman, on stage with local bluegrass band Baloney Moon, gave an impassioned speech that drew a strong reaction from the crowd.
Photo by Stephen Webster

TNC: “So, how would we deal with the estimated 11 million illegals?”

KF: “Well, that’s a federal problem. I don’t know what they’re going to do about it. As far as Texas is concerned, I would say that they should speak English before they become American citizens. They should pay a fine for coming in our country illegally. They’re paying taxes right now, most of them, but they’ll never see that money helping them. The whole system is unbalanced and unfair, and it needs to be overhauled. But it is more important to Texas than it would be in a place like Rhode Island, you know? It is real important here. God knows what is coming through that border right now, in the way of drugs and gangs or terrorists. That’s what happens when you neglect the border for so long. That is why you find dead bodies in cargo container trucks: because you neglected the border. So, the more attention we can focus on it the better. Two reasons that I figure why Rick Perry hasn’t even spoken to [Arizona Governor] Janet Nepalitano or Bill Richardson – it could be that they’re Democrats and he’s a Republican, or it could be that he wants to leave Hispanics alone because he’s afraid of them, and he thinks they’re beginning to move to his side. So does George W. [They think] they’re beginning to turn Republican and they don’t want to get in the way of that by trying to do anything to illegals that would scare off half a million people from the Republican party. And the Democrats just don’t know what to do. The Hispanics here in Texas know what to do. They appreciate truth like anybody else. When I was in the valley, two months ago, three times I was asked the question by Hispanics: ‘What are we gonna do with all these Mexicans coming over here?’ If I went to Austin and said, ‘What are we gonna do with all these Mexicans coming over here?’ people would say, ‘He’s a racist!’ (Laughs) But you listen to the Hispanics saying ‘What are we gonna do with all these Mexicans?’ That’s a logical question, isn’t it? So what are we gonna do? Well, we’d better figure it out. I don’t have all the answers, but I know one thing. If you ignore the border, you ignore it at your peril. The border and education are the two biggest issues facing all of us. Gay marriage is not facing all of us, okay? That’s one that if we’d tackled it or not tackled it, it wouldn’t have made any damn difference. So while the Governor has been wasting time and money – our money – on banning gay marriage, I believe that education and the border have been neglected severely in Texas. That needs to be addressed.”

TNC: “You also said that law enforcement is an issue close to you. How do you feel about how that arm of the government is handled in Texas?”

KF: “Well, I think cops, firemen, teachers and the troops, the veterans, are the foremost important groups of people in this society. Other people contribute, of course. But they are right on the front lines. The teachers, the cops, the firefighters and the veterans, arguably the most important. All of them are underpaid. All of them are not honored. The troops, as soon as they come home, are forgotten. Teachers are treated like shit in Texas; very badly. It is cynical to say that we care about education when we’re treating our teachers this badly. And it is not just the salaries. Everything is going against them. The whole system – teaching to the test – is killing education. For one thing, it is not educating kids. It is turning out a whole generation of kids who’ve never heard of Mark Twain ‘cause he’s not on the test. That is a flawed concept. That’ll get you out of teaching fast, if you’re smart. We’ve got to get rid of teaching to the test. We’ve got to make a lot of fundamental changes. We’ve got to get money fueling the system. Then, maybe we’ll have a chance, by putting the teachers back in charge.”

Friedman on Iraq - "[W]e attacked the wrong 'I-country.'"
Photo by Stephen Webster

TNC: “You have said we need to make more room in jail for pedophiles and perverts and let some of the pot heads out because they are not hurting anybody. Does that mean you want to reform our marijuana laws?”

KF: “Yes. I think the War on Drugs has failed. I talked to McCain about that as well. He agrees. He told me that cocaine in Phoenix now is cheaper, better and more available than it has ever been. If that is any example of how it is across the country, the War on Drugs has failed. It has also failed because we’ve now got more prisoners than the entire population of Alaska in our jails here in Texas. As you know, the majority of them are non-violent druggies who should be in rehab. Every neighborhood has a sexual predator. Every single one of them. Every time the reason is given: Why is the guy out? Well, he was in for three months but they couldn’t hold him or they didn’t have room. What do you mean they didn’t have room for him? What’s going on here? So, let’s make room for them. Let’s get some of the druggies out. (Laughs) You know, I’m not going to be able to take a very hard stance on drugs with Willie Nelson being in my cabinet. So, I won’t actually be able to take any draconian measures. But, I don’t think that drugs are the issue here in Texas. I don’t think handguns is. I don’t think abortion is. I think education is, and the border. Those are the biggies. And I’m not very happy with the pardons and parole board either. I want to look at that one. As far as I know, those guys are getting paid an upwards of $80,000 a year or more a piece – there’s 18 of them – and I only found out recently that when a man dies here in Texas, which has been on the average of about one every two weeks, these guys don’t even meet. They don’t even call. They fax it in. They have their secretaries fax in their vote. They fax it in from the deli. I am not happy with that. I asked the question: ‘When was the last time a rich man was executed in Texas?’ The answer, of course, is never. So, if the system is that imperfect, I think we’d better review it, because it is the same system that killed Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, which was imperfect too. What have we learned in 2,000 years?”

TNC: “To wrap it up, I have one final question. It doesn’t directly pertain to the Texas Governor’s office, but it affects a lot of Texans nonetheless …”

KF: “Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t answer any more questions. (Laughter) Yeah, sure. Fire away.”

TNC: “How do you feel about the Iraq war?”

FK: “Well, I think everybody is pretty well agreeing now that we attacked the wrong ‘I-country.’ It’s a mess and we’re stuck. It’s a tar baby. We can’t get out. We can’t just pull out. So, what do we do? I would leave it to military men. I’d leave it to men like Dick Cheney. Who, ah … By the way, I want to stand up for Dick’s hunting accident. You know, I actually think it is a pretty fitting end to a long, distinguished military career. But, we’ll leave it up to Dick Cheney to work it out. He got us in … maybe he can get us out. But, I’m running for Governor, not King. So, that’s really not my problem.”

For more information about Kinky Friedman, or to sign his petition and put him on the Texas ballot in November, see KinkyFriedman.com.

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