Gubernatorial Candidate Kinky Friedman: My Dog Could Run This State As Well As Rick Perry

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Photos by Craig Hlavaty

"Going from musician to politician is definitely a step down," says Kinky Friedman, who announced his Texas gubernatorial candidacy Tuesday morning. "But I'll take it for Texas."

Of course, it's a step that Friedman, author of songs such as "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Any More" and "The Ballad of Charles Whitman," as well as numerous mystery novels, took once before in 2006, when he took about 13 percent of the popular vote as an independent. Running as a Democrat this time, Friedman is a master of the sound bite but hadn't even come up with a campaign slogan until he was leaving the Press offices Tuesday evening.

"Smart president, smart governor - how about that?"

Rocks Off: Why do it again?

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Kinky Friedman: That's a really good question. You'd have to ask a few psychiatrists for the answer to that one. I think you do something until you get it right. I think I shouldn't have run as an independent, in retrospect. No independent's ever won in Texas except for Sam Houston. I've always been a Democrat, my heroes have always been Democrats and it just made sense. A lot of the things that I stood for in my last campaign are still true. George Washington wasn't wrong; there's still a lot of flaws in the two-party system. But that's what we have.

So I've seen the light. I will play by the rules, and I'll run in the Democratic primary and if I were to lose, I would endorse and campaign for whoever does win, and I would assume they'll do the same for me. And spiritually, the Democrats are a very populist party. That's what's made them such a power over the past century. That's where I come in. I see myself as maybe the only man of the people in the race, considering all these other people are flying around in their private jets all the time. I'm a Southwest Airlines kind of guy. By choice.

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RO: Other than running as a Democrat this time, do you plan to run your campaign differently?

KF: Yeah. I think it'll be leaner and meaner, and it'll have more ideas. I think one of the big faults of the Democratic Party, why we've had this huge chain of losses here in Texas, why the last man of the people Texas governor wasn't even a man - it was Ann Richards - is because the insiders, the establishment of the Democratic Party have run candidates not on ideas but on demographics. They believe in demographics, and to hell with ideas.

And of course Rick Perry and Kay Bailey [Hutchison] are fresh out of ideas. They've been in politics the whole of their adult lives, they're in the hands of the big rich. They won't have any ideas. So I really see myself as more of somebody who can be a true populist, who can represent the people of Texas, and I think we're the ones getting left out by Rick Perry. He always says the state's in the black, but we're all in the red.

RO: What are a few of the ideas you're running on this time?

KF: I'd like to see a three-year moratorium on all insurance-rate hikes. I'd like to see us elect the insurance commissioner instead of having him appointed by the governor. I want to see teachers get a $3,000 pay raise across the board. I want the TAKS test out of there and teaching to the test gone. I want us to teach kids how to think for themselves. I want all toll roads gone - I want to ban toll roads and buy back the ones we now have. It's a public trust. We pay our taxes, the state builds roads. When did these foreign corporations and these toll roads start coming in here, and why, and who benefits?

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So let's get rid of them and pay for it with casino gambling. Let's use the Rodney Ellis formula [of] the gambling zones. The reason that didn't get off the board was we didn't have a governor that could set priorities. And let me just say there's nothing stupider than being 49th in education and Louisiana passing us by. [raises voice] And we're helping 'em pay for it! We're building their schools and roads. That just isn't common sense.

RO: Since you last ran, Galveston was of course devastated by Hurricane Ike. Do you still support legalizing gambling on the Island?

KF: Absolutely. If Galveston wants it, and I believe Galveston does want it, I believe it would save Galveston. Corpus might want it. It's up to them. If Baytown or Beaumont wants it - whoever. If San Angelo doesn't want it, they don't have to have it, but the amount of money that can be made is huge for the state. There's no question about it.

You look at the lottery money, which never gets to education, and that I want to investigate and show every Texan where it is, where the billions of dollars are. Why Georgia, which also has its own lottery - we don't; we have an Italian corporation owning ours - has two Rhodes scholars from the University of Georgia, the only institution in the country with two Rhodes scholars. Both are Hope Scholarships paid for by the lottery.

RO: What else would you do to help Galveston recover?

KF: I think Rick missed a real chance, and he's missed all the chances that would have helped the people. This is my complaint: the Texas Comptroller's Office says that we're the tenth largest economy in the world. We've never been lacking in money. We're lacking in leadership and priorities. He turned down $550 million from Obama. $550 million in the stimulus package, just so he could get to the right of Kay Bailey Hutchison. That was his reason for turning that down. That's his only reason, I believe. Very cynical.

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Give me 550 million bucks, [and] I would have put the unemployed to work in a conservation corps fixing Galveston. That could have been done and should have been done. That's one little thing he missed. But the guy's going to be missing a lot of stuff because the state's in the black and we're in the red, and he doesn't care. So he's failed to set priorities. One of them could be education. He's about the only guy that believes in toll roads. He'll tell you how good toll roads are doing, how good Texas is doing.

Sure, Texas is doing well - we've got this booster seat of oil reserves. We're a very rich state. If my dog Mr. Magoo had been running the state for the past ten years, we'd still be in the black. It doesn't take a genius to keep Texas in the black. What about the people? That's where I don't see a man of the people in this race, somebody who's an unabashed champion for the working families of Texas, and I want to be that guy.

RO: Running as a man of the people, what do you think it is the people of Texas need the most? The working families?

KF: Well, that would be up to them, and I'll be listening to a lot of them over the next six months. Some of it, like Abraham Lincoln said, is public sentiment. I think the public does not want to be 49th in education. They don't want pro-life license plates that are very divisive, they don't want arguments about creationism. We don't need that when we're 49th in education.

We need a better education system. I'd also say ethics reform is big. Let's have term limits - exhibit A is Rick Perry. Let's make these politicians show proof in good standing that they've paid their taxes. Is that too much to ask before they get on the ballot? Why not do that - why not hold them to a higher standard?

RO: What would you propose instead of standardized testing?

KF: I'm not against standardized testing. I took standardized testing when I was in school. Have standardized testing, but let's have something that starts in the classroom and goes out from there. Let's not have something superimposed from the top - this No Child Left Behind, this teaching to the test. Teaching to the test is running out the great teachers. They're almost all gone. They won't teach to the test. Good teachers don't like it a bit, parents don't like it, students don't like it.

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The person that likes it, I guess, is Rick Perry at this point. He thinks it's doing well. He's a diplomat. He'll tell you how well we're doing in whatever area. Criminal justice - guy dies in prison, Timothy Cole, the rapist who was never a rapist. His innocence was shown not by the state, but by the Innocence Project, some college kids proved that he didn't do it. And then the real rapist confesses. That's what happened.

So I propose a Timothy Cole commission, run by people like Racehorse Haynes - indisputable people, champions of justice. Who does Rick Perry appoint? He appoints political spoils people all up and down the line. That's why you've got the Texas Youth Commission, that's why you've got the Corpus Christi State School and you've got a Death Row that's never been DNAed. You probably have more Timothy Coles in there. I'd like to make sure that is straight. That's something a governor can do.

RO: What is the main issue facing the criminal justice system?

KF: Well, I think the death penalty's gotta go. I think it's going to go. The faster we do it, the more transformational Texas will become to the world. If we did it, I think the world and the rest of America would stand up and cheer for Texas. That's not being soft on crime - you put these people away where they never see the light of day. But don't kill 'em. As I've said before, I hate for you to have to hear this from a Jew, but that's who you heard it from the first time.

RO: Should you win, do you still plan to appoint Willie Nelson to your cabinet?

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KF: That's up to Willie. We may have to drug test some of these people before we put 'em on the ballot. I guess that would be an appointment. Whatever Willie wants to do for Texas would be great. He is the hillbilly Dalai Lama, and he's a man that along with Neil Young has been using alternative fuels and Biodiesel on his bus for ten years now, something the politicians in Washington are just picking up on. He's a valuable national resource.

RO: This is such a big oil state - do you support more exploration of alternative fuels?

KF: Of course we do. Even the oil companies want to do that. I liked our Trust for Texas Heroes last time, where we put a surcharge on big oil, right at the wellhead. It goes strictly toward increasing the salaries of teachers, cops and firefighters. That's good legislation.

RO: Should Kay Bailey upset Perry in the primaries, would that change anything for you?

KF: Not a thing. That's the clash of the plastic titans. That's the battle of the cheerleaders over there. I'm predicting this is going to be a Russ Feingold moment. By that I mean the citizens of Wisconsin were so furious that these rich bastards spent all this money being nasty and mean and bloody and petty that they all voted for the guy who was on the high road. I intend to stay on the high road, because I'm a Democrat but I'm also a Texan.

Find out more about Friedman's campaign at www.kinkyfriedman.com.

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