The Magazine

Kinky Friedman
Runs for Governor

But is it good for the Texans?

Oct 23, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 06 • By MATT LABASH
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I ask him if he's heard "Teatro," some of the most achingly beautiful music Nelson ever recorded. He hasn't. So I take the CD out of my bag and try to give it to him. "It won't get listened to," he says. "I don't listen to music anymore. I think it stems from having been in so many dance halls and bars--I'm just pretty averse to it. Personally, I'd rather watch Fox News," he says. "Though I keep it muted most of the time."

Just then, a voter approaches, and takes a seat at our table as if she were an old friend. Her name is Kelly Wages, and she's voted for Republican incumbent Rick Perry in the past, but now she's undecided, like much of Texas. Perry leads the pack of four candidates, but with an anemic 35 percent, meaning that he's hemorrhaging even Republican support. "Why should I vote for you?" she asks Kinky.

Most politicians would take this as a cue to begin sucking up. But Kinky shoots me a get-a-load-of-her look and goes the reverse-psychology route. "Because I have no political experience whatsoever." (This is only partly true. In 1986, he ran for justice of the peace in his Hill Country district, promising to lower the speed limit to 54.95. He lost.)

Wages says that's precisely what she's worried about. Kinky says she shouldn't be too worried. The other candidates have 89 years of political experience between them, and Texas is fiftieth in education, health care coverage, and care for the elderly, while being first in executions, toll roads, property taxes, and dropouts, thus illustrating one of his campaign slogans: "Kinky Friedman: Why The Hell Not?" When I bring up a recent Dallas Morning News story taking issue with many of Kinky's figures, he says, "Oh f-- that lady! We're forty-third, not fiftieth--yaaayyyyy!" Wages starts laughing.

I ask Wages if he has her; I can feel her teetering. "Well," she says, "he talks some sense." She says Perry is too bullish on executions, and too negligent on health care. A little less indulgent of Wages since I'm not running for office and she's interrupted my interview, I point out that the two positions are complementary, that the more people are executed, the fewer will need health care. "That's a good point," Kinky allows.

He continues in the hard-to-get vein. If Wages doesn't want him, he doesn't want her. As a reformer, he wants to "get the money changers out of the temple," one of his frequent Jesus references. ("I'm washed in the same blood you are, brother," he tells me. "I'm a Judeo-Christian. Jesus and Moses are in my heart, two good Jewish boys who got in a little trouble with the government.") If Wages can't tell the difference between him and the other candidates, if she "thinks my style's too rough, and you prefer a dignified, self-important, pompous-ass politician," then maybe she should vote for someone else. Wages looks hurt, but intrigued. Kinky says the other candidates will try to sink him, like they do everybody, because that's what these cockroaches do. That's why someone like her, who's generally a good person, won't run for office. "They know what you've done," I assist. "It's a walk-in closet, isn't it?" asks Kinky.

After ten more minutes of this, Wages nearly has her pants charmed off. Kinky finally asks for her vote. "I'm an unemployed youth," he begs, "I need the job." (He's 61, though "I read at a 63-year-old level.") She says he's got it, and bids adieu with a lingering hug. After she leaves, he turns to me, mouthing his unlit and ever-present Monte Cristo No. 2 cigar. "She ain't votin' for us. C'mon, let's go find some place I can smoke. There could be a guy running around here in a Hitler suit, and all they'd care about is the guy who's smoking."

Smoking is one of many ways Kinky proves himself politically incorrect, a trait he takes great pride in since the obverse has contributed to the "wussi fi cation" of Texas. I ask him what other behaviors are "wussified."

"Doing interviews with THE WEEKLY STANDARD," he replies.

One of the reasons it's great fun campaigning with Kinky is that he's in on the joke. Which joke, you might ask? All of them, pretty much. He fundamentally understands how absurd it is to spend two years of your life begging people to love you, to secure a job in which half the population at any given time will hate you. I get the sense it's made him an action junkie, though he insists if he loses, he'll "retire in a petulant snit" to a life of quiet contemplation.