Seriously Kinky

This Texas Jewboy wants to be the next governor of Texas, and if you think he's kidding, the joke may be on you

"My old pal Evan Smith [editor of Texas Monthly] told me, 'Kinky, enough of the one-liners. Where's the real substance?'" Friedman says. "Yet he listens to Kay Bailey [Hutchison] or Rick Perry or John Sharp or Chris Bell and he thinks he's hearing substance, and that's ludicrous. I'll tell ya about one-liners. The kings of one-liners are probably Kinky Friedman, Henny Youngman and Oscar Wilde throughout history, but the defense of a good one-liner is that the cowboy uses one line between his saddle horn and the steer he's roped, and hopefully that one line is true and strong. Travis at the Alamo drew one line in the sand for the men to walk across. Jesus had one line on the cross: 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.' So if a one-liner is true and strong, it can save a soul. That's my defense of the one-liner. And I'm telling you, the campaign with the most substance is ours, merely because the candidate and the people around him don't come from politics. The closest we get to politics is Dean Barkley..."

"Hey, I resent that," Barkley barks. "Fuck you, asshole."


They look like a summer-vacation crowd, these men in Hawaiian shirts and women in pleated shorts. All morning, about 300 members of the Texas Press Association--folks from such places as Iowa City, Alvin, Hondo, Hereford, Fredericksburg, Marble Falls, Gatesville, Silsbee, Pleasanton and Wylie--have been sitting through (and sleeping through) speeches by Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, who, during her presentation, was still toying with the idea of challenging Rick Perry for the GOP's gubernatorial nomination. Waiting outside the Omni Mandalay Hotel in Las Colinas, Barkley informs Friedman that Hutchison referred to him as the afternoon's comic relief. Kinky says that's fine with him. "If a lifelong politician comes down here and says, 'I'm here to help,'" Friedman says, "you run the other way."
Reflections of a Texas Jewboy: Kinky Friedman wants you to know that "Friedman's just another word for nothing left to lose."
Mark Graham
Reflections of a Texas Jewboy: Kinky Friedman wants you to know that "Friedman's just another word for nothing left to lose."
Friedman addresses the Texas Press Association.
Mark Graham
Friedman addresses the Texas Press Association.

On the drive over, Friedman tells his constant companion and former Jewboy Jeff "Little Jewford" Shelby that his winning the governor's race is "a long shot, a quest," but that it's speaking engagements like this one that'll win it for him. These are his people, small-town folk who like their state a deep shade of red but don't mind their governor's sense of humor a little blue. This is the audience he needs to convert, folks who can galvanize their small-town readers to clear the backwoods brush for a Texas Jewboy who wants to be their governor.

"I think we're going to win Fredericksburg, and as Fredericksburg goes, so goes the state," he insists. "There are rednecks still left in this state, and the rednecks are for Kinky Friedman. That's the fact, OK?"

And, indeed, they're waiting for him the moment Shelby pulls up in their rented black SUV. "Here comes the man," says one man to another who's snapping pictures like a spastic paparazzo. A woman from Iowa Park, home to one of the state's largest prison facilities, asks if he's brought the petition. Friedman has to explain to her he can't start gathering signatures till after the primaries, and that she can sign the petition only if she doesn't vote in the primaries.

"So save yourself for Kinky," he tells her. It's a line he uses often, and it always gets a laugh.

Editors clamor to meet Friedman, to get their pictures taken with him, to get his autograph. "I'll sign anything except bad legislation," he says, scribbling his signature. Sometimes he'll add, "Love, The Gov." When he steps outside to puff on his cigar, one editor will tell another that he's gonna be the first in the state to endorse Friedman.

Laura Stromberg, Friedman's press secretary, finds Friedman to tell him what Cornyn and Hutchison said in their speeches. "I don't wanna hear any of their shit," he tells her. Someone asks Friedman if he thinks Hutchison will run.

"She'll split the party if she does," he tells her.

Barkley, hanging back in a tan suit and holding a cigar of his own, says, "We could use a few bloody lips on the other side." He tells Friedman that, by the way, he's not sure whether Hutchison's comic relief comment was meant as a compliment or an insult.

"But," Barkley says, "I hope they do underestimate you."

When Friedman takes the podium, with an enormous state flag as his backdrop, he looks like Rabbi Patton in Village People drag. The crowd gives him a warm welcome, their applause filled with, if nothing else, blessed relief that his will not be a dull speech. He insists this is not a joke, and that "the only joke is the Texas Legislature." The audience laughs and applauds.

His stump speech, which is essentially a greatest-hits collection of one-liners he's used before in columns and conversation, plays well. They laugh at his promise to reduce the speed limit to 54.95 if he's elected, a holdover from his failed 1986 campaign for justice of the peace in Kerrville. They offer a smattering of applause when he comes out for gay marriage--"Love is bigger than government," he says, still sounding like a songwriter--but cheer his plan to allow teachers to create their own lesson plans. "They're just teaching to the test," he says, "and it's turned our teachers into Stepford Wives."

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