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Kinky Friedman: Singer/Songwriter/Novelist and Governor?

Many years ago in a galaxy far, far away known as the Seventies I remember watching television one Saturday night in anticipation of that new late show Saturday Night Live. I had watched a couple of theirshows already and had loved both the comedy and the fact that you could see some great music performed live; and not just the music that was being played on the radio.

Well this night I hadn't known who was going to be the musical guest so it was some shock to my system when one of the cast got up and asked everybody to welcome Kinky Friedman and The Texas Jewboys onto stage. Kinky was wearing one of the biggest Stetsons I've ever seen and the most amazing collection of Rhinestones adorned his jacket. I 'm not sure if it was one of his famous message jackets, and I can't even remember what song he sang that night.

All I remember is being blown away by the audacity of an obviously Jewish man getting up on stage and thumbing his nose at convention and bigots by singing genuine country music with lyrics that would make Ray Acuff and the rest of Nashville run for the hills. But while some of his albums may have titles like Asshole From El Passo, or They Don't Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore, he still has an obvious love for country and western music.

He may have been born in Chicago, but he obviously moved to Texas early enough in life to soak up the spirit of individuality that Texans pride themselves in. I don't think anyone but a Texan Jew would have the chutzpah to stand up on stage dressed like him and dare anybody to do something about it.

Kinky was born in Chicago in 1944 and his family left there for Texas when he was smaller then he is now and he's been growing ever since. Obviously he's no slouch in the brain department, because at the age of seven he was chosen to be one of 50 opponents picked to challenge a chess grand master simultaneously. After graduating from the University of Texas in 1966 he did a couple of years with the Peace Corps in Borneo.

The 1970's were his heyday as a musical performer, appearing with Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Review tour, and to date he has released ten albums. His musical career started to slow down after 1980, and so he turned to another means of creative expression, mystery story writing.

That's how I stumbled across him again, by tripping over his long legs sticking out from my local library shelf. When I saw the name Kinky Friedman on the spine of a detective novel, I was shocked to think there were two people in the world with that name. Thankfully there aren't, it was the same Kinky who I'd seen on television almost twenty years prior to that close encounter in the library.

His books are off colour, non-politically correct, iconoclastic, irreverent, (he refers to Garth Brooks as the "anti-Hank") and some of the funniest stuff I had read in years. As hard-boiled as 40 minute eggs, he cruises the streets of New York City as a fictionalized version of himself. His real life friends show up in the pages along with villains ranging from Columbian drug gangs to crazed booking agents. With the help of his motley gang of irregulars he does his bit to keep the streets of New York weird and safe, or at least safely weird.

Sticking his nose, and cigar, in far too many places, and people, where they don't belong, he dodges bullets and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with equal aplomb. He's a man's man who is only ever outwitted by his cat and his hankering for Peruvian Marching Powder.

But there comes a time in every man's life where he has to shoulder the burden of responsibility and since Kinky has no desire to get married, he's decided to throw his sizable hat into the ring and run as an Independent candidate for the office of Governor of Texas in the 2006 elections.

The first I heard about this campaign was when I was interviewing Arlo Guthrie and had asked him about the conditions for migrant workers in the United States and how they compared today with the days of the United Farm Workers boycotts. Arlo said the best plan he'd heard of for dealing with illegal immigration was the one his friend Kinky Friedman was proposing as part of his campaign for the office of Governor in Texas.

I was impressed by two things, one was the plan itself made a lot of sense, and two that a person like Arlo Guthrie, who is not politically naïve by any stretch of the imagination, was very serious about his support for both the plan and the person. One of the reasons I've always enjoyed Kinky's irreverent attitude towards is for the reason that there is always thought behind everything he does.

His garish costumes on stage, his song titles, and the contents of his books aren't just juvenile attempts at humour, but carefully aimed jabs of a sharp knife at the pretensions and expectations of a great many people. His targets are never those who don't deserve what they get, and he's never been afraid of including himself in the list of people needing to be taken down a peg or two when the moment warrants.

So the news that he was running for Governor piqued my interest, and I've been meaning to find our more ever since that interview. The first piece I read was a background article at blogcritics.org about the Texas race that does a nice job of introducing all the players and some of the issues that Texans are wrestling with right now. But sometimes you need to get the word from the horse's mouth, so I went to the corral to see what I could find out.

The Kinky Friedman for Governor site provides you with everything you need to know about where Kinky stands on all the hot button issues from Gay Marriage, ("They have as much right to be miserable as the rest of us") education, ("Texas has the 8th largest economy in the world, but we're 1st in drop-out rates") health care, ("the message we're sending our kids is that if you're going to be born poor, you'd better not be born in Texas") and renewable energy ("Biodiesel is fuel you can grow. That's good for farmers, good for the air, good for the Texas energy industry and good for Texans").

Now obviously a lot of his opinions are not ones that are going to win him friends among big business or the religious right. The oil companies are not going to be thrilled with a Governor who is encouraging the utilization of something other than their products to run automobiles, nor his idea of a one percent tax on gas and oil products produced in Texas to pay for his "Fund for the Heroes of Texas" that will pay for the salaries of teachers, firefighters, and police officers to be increased.

But he's running as a populist, an anti-politician political candidate who wants to do things differently than they've been done up until now. The thing is, if his statistics are accurate, there are a lot of people in Texas who feel disenfranchised. According to his figures the two major parties spent 100 million dollars campaigning for a job that pays $100,000 per year, and only 30% of the population voted in the last election.

That's a huge chunk of people out there who Kinky feels are just waiting for the right person to come along that will appeal to them and not the people with the deep pockets who contribute all that money to the Republicans and the Democrats. Of course Kinky has his own special interest group, headed up by Willie Nelson and all his other old buddies in the music industry. But I think it's safe to say that they won't be looking for any favours along the lines of relaxing environmental regulations, or cutting corporate taxes.

I'm sure the biggest question people will have about this campaign is it serious? After reading what I had to say about Kinky initially that's a fair question. One look at his site and his issues page will be more than enough to convince you of his legitimacy. He's thought out careful positions on each of what he considers the important issues facing Texans. You might be a little taken aback by his approach of course, because he doesn't resort to the usual political clichés that you so often hear from politicians.

He's not catering to anyones political ideology either; he's tackled each issue individually, not based on what he's supposed to say because he represents this or that group of people. He's blunt and forthright and doesn't equivocate by hiding behind spin-doctors or spokespeople. With Kinky, what you see is what you get.

Kinky's first challenge in his quest to win the Governor's mansion is to get his name on the ballot. In order to do this he has to hand in a petition with 45,000 signatures by May 11th 2006. Once he's past that hurdle the real race can begin.

In Canada where I live we had four legitimate parties competing in our last federal election. People need to have more than just two options when they are voting for public office; otherwise it becomes far too easy to lose interest in the proceedings. Neither candidate is willing to deviate far from the tried and true and risk alienating the regular voters and the money behind the scenes. A third candidate introduces fresh ideas and new life to a campaign, gives voters a genuine option for change, and can generate fresh interest among the voters.

In Kinky Friedman the people of Texas are not only being given the opportunity to look over new ideas to old problems, but also have the chance to put life into a system that is threatening to become moribund. At the very least Kinky deserves to be on the ballot for this November's race for the Governor's mansion, after that, well it will be interesting to see where the chips fall, that's for sure.

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Kinky's thoughts on border security and other foreign policy issues is RIGHT ON THE MONEY!

Kinky discussed his ideas the illegal Mexican alien problem with the Texarkana Gazette:

"Mexico is not a poor country...all of these politicians are afraid of offending Hispanics. I want the border off the evening news until we get something resolved."

Kinky's right! And he's been saying that Mexico ain't poor for better than a year now. Here's a another story out of the Kilgore News Herald, where Kinky says "Mexico is not a poor country."

Here's some other interesting stuff out of that Kilgore News Herald story:

“I am going to see non-denominational prayer and the Ten Commandments put back in the schools.”

Friedman said the Ten Commandments might have to be called the ten rules or something similar but they need to be back in the schools. “They say this is part of my wussification campaign but, as my spiritual advisor Billy Jo Schafer says, “If you don’t love Jesus, go to hell.”

One of Friedman’s most unusual ideas addresses border security.

He proposes creating what he calls the Five Mexican Generals plan. As he lays it out, the border with Mexico would be divided into five pieces with a Mexican general responsible for each. A $1 million trust fund would be created for each general.

“When I talk about the five Mexican generals, people think I’m joking but I’m dead serious,” said Friedman. “I will divide the border into five jurisdictions, assigning one Mexican general to each and providing a trust fund for that general. Every time a person crosses illegally, we subtract $5,000 from the trust fund.”

Kinky also spoke with Ruminator Magazine about his thoughts on Bush's foreign policy:

Ruminator: So does this idea of the honorable cowboy have anything to do with why you threw your support behind President Bush in this last election? You did, didn’t you?

Kinky: Yes. I did in this last election, but I didn’t vote for him the first time....I was not for Bush that time. Since then, though, we’ve become friends. And that’s what’s changed things.

Ruminator: So it’s your friendship with him that’s changed your mind about having him as president more than his specific political positions?

Kinky: Well, actually, I agree with most of his political positions overseas, his foreign policy....I basically think he played a poor hand well after September 11. What he’s been doing in the Near East and in the Middle East, he’s handling that well, I think.

Kinky is Awesome!