By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
When Richard Hunter announced he was running for the office of mayor in Fort Worth, he expected everyone to figure he was goofing. After all, Hunter isn't a politician. He's a long-haired 25-year-old bass player, for God's sake, best known for his stint in Killbilly and now I, The Jury. Rock musicians, writers, and radio jocks often pull stunts like this, and sometimes they get taken seriously, even when it's just for grins.
Kinky Friedman came close to becoming the justice of the peace in Kerrville a decade ago, former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra ran for the San Francisco mayor's job in 1984, Howard Stern took his shot at becoming New York's governor last year, and Hunter Thompson damned near took over Woody Creek, Colorado, with his Freak Power platform in the '70s. Sonny Bono doesn't count, since he was never much of a musician, anyway.
So when Hunter started garnering legit press in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last month, he couldn't have been more surprised. He was being written about with the same straight face given to front-runner Fort Worth Councilman Ken Barr, whose campaign is being financed in large part by the powerful Bass family. Hunter was mentioned in the same breath as Fort Worth community activist Sharon Armstrong, whom the Star Telegram referred to as one of two "credible" opponents facing Barr--the other being, damn it all, Richard Hunter, who, columnist Cecil Johnson wrote, "adds a tantalizing note to the campaign."
"The amazing part about the campaign is I knew that I was going to approach this seriously, that this was not a novelty," Hunter says. "But I was prepared for more of a resistance from the Fort Worth establishment, and it's been exactly the opposite. From the time of the first candidate forum three weeks ago, the credibility issue was put to rest, and I've been received well by the Fort Worth press and the voters and the elected officials...
"They have told me that I have a message that comes across to the voter--that it's sincere, believable, and that I convey it well, and they relate to it. They're seeing a freshness, which I think is attributed to the youth factor, both because of my own age and most of my campaign volunteers are young. They see that combines with a genuine sense of duty to serve and sincerity in wanting to contribute."
Hunter, speaking just 10 days before the May 4 special election to replace Kay Granger (who departed the job to run for Pete Geren's congressional seat), sounds like he takes this seriously enough. He doesn't laugh at the obvious jokes about his campaign, doesn't find it contradictory that a man who was once out on tour with a band sponsored by Budweiser should now run for Fort Worth's highest office. He was a rocker in a band of would-be bluegrass traditionalists, and, a dead ringer for Axl Rose, he invariably stuck out behind his upright bass. Apparently that wasn't good enough for Hunter.
Hunter speaks with the evenhandedness of a true politician, spelling out the five points of his campaign with deadpan earnestness. He wants to get the "average citizen" more directly involved in government, including those all-important young people; he demands an increase in "specialty training" for police officers; and he is calling for a property-tax credit for landlords who turn their empty buildings into homeless shelters. Finally, he says, "I want a more comprehensive and aggressive approach to spaying, neutering, and adopting unwanted animals." Remember, this is not a joke.
Hunter's low-key campaign, which consists of a barrage of bumper stickers and fliers and several dozen speaking engagements (not to mention a little politicking from the stage), kicked off at the beginning of the year, although he didn't officially file for candidacy until April 3. Hunter figures he has spent at least $1,500 so far on his campaign--which is far below the $30,000 or so Barr claims to have spent in most recent campaign-finance reports. (Records show about $10,000 of Barr's money has come directly from the Bass family.)
"This is all grass-roots nickel-and-dime money," Hunter insists. "A majority of my contributions have come from senior citizens."
Perhaps to change some of that and cash in on the youth vote, Hunter held a fund-raiser last weekend at the Impala in Fort Worth, which was once the site of Stage West. The bill included the likes of Slobberbone, Dead City Radio, and Hunter's own I, The Jury (which also includes former Tabula Rasa singer Ezra Boggs), but the guest of honor was Jello Biafra, who knows something about the fine line separating rock and roll and politics.
But Kinky Friedman perhaps offers the best perspective when it comes to being taken seriously as a politician when your whole life has been spent paying the bills as a musician. Friedman came within 1,000 votes of becoming the justice of the peace in Kerrville, and though he was damned serious about the job, he ran on the campaign slogan, "I'll keep us out of war with Fredricksburg." The voters laughed Kinky out of politics and into a fruitful career as a mystery novelist.