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Kinky Friedman: “Think of me as Ann Richards in drag.”

By Enrique Lopetegui

elopetegui@sacurrent.com

Photos by Erik Gustafson (special for the Current)

Poor Kinkyâ?¦ The campaign hasn't even started and I'm already underestimating him.

I chose the 9 a.m. slot for the interview at the Commerce Building because I wanted to get him fresh, and because I just knew he would be late and that would give me time to look around his environment.

But no; 9 a.m. sharp, and Kinky was there.

“Always punctual,” he proudly said. Holding an unlit cigar, he spoke calmly, looking me in the eyes, only cranking it up whenever he needed to say “Sotomayor.” And though his hat was black (matching the rest of his wardrobe), like those of villains in old Western movies, he swears he's one of the good guys.

“Going from musician to politician is a step down, but I'm willing to take it for Texas,” he said. How nice of him.

Even when the interview was over, Kinky seemed eager to continue talking. After instructing campaign manager Rania Batrice to put the Current on the phone in case we had any follow-up questions, he told me one last thing by the elevator.

“If I win the primary, I win the whole thing.”

Go get 'em, Jewboy.

Why are you running as a Democrat this time?

Because I'm the only Man of the People in the race, and I think the people in Texas deserve better than they're getting, better than their choices would be without me in the race.

But why as a Democrat? You've run as a Republican in 1986 `for Kerr County Justice`, then as an Independent for Governor in 2006â?¦

I've never been a Republican. I ran once as a matter ofâ?¦ not even expedience, but as a matter of survival in 2006, for Justice of the Peace. There was no form of Democratic structure in Kerrville at that time, so that's why I did it, that's all. Ideologically, I've never been a Republican. But my values, really, are not Texas valuesâ?¦ `correcting himself` They are Texas values, not Republican values or Democratic values.

I just don't think you can win as an Independent, number one. I've seen the light. I think I made a mistake politically to run as an Independent. And the fact that Sam Houston was the last one to win as an Independent should've been the tip-off. I should've seen that it can't be done. And then I looked back at the Democrats that I admire. Who are my heroes? They are people like Sam Houston, `former Speaker of the House` Sam Rayburn, `former U.S. Senator` Ralph Yarborough, Henry B. González, Ann Richards, `columnist` Molly Ivins, `former U.S. Congresswoman` Barbara Jordan� That makes you a Democrat.

As Jim Hightower told me: “If you want to know something about somebody, find out who their heroes are.” So that's why I'm running as a Democrat, and also because I think I can win this primary. If I do that, Texas may have a chance to have some real vision and a brighter future than there would be with Rick Perry.

Who do you have to beat? Are you as concerned with your Democratic opponents as you are with Perry or Kay Bailey Hutchison?

I'm not worried about the Democrats. I think we're going to win the primary. I think the whole question is: How does the clash of the plastic titans resolve itself? If Rick Perry wins, I think the majority of Texans are ready for him to go. I think it's time for Texans to secede from Rick Perry, because I don't think he's done anything. There's nothing I can point to, Enrique, that he's done in 10 years that benefits the people. He can say “toll roads are bringing in money to the economy.” He's bringing it into the state —— the state is in the black, we're all in the red.

Can `Bailey Hutchison` win?

Yes, Kay can win. I don't think it's going to make much difference. Conventional wisdom is that she's going to have a harder time beating him than anything else. She made a mistake recently, and the mistake was to vote against `recently appointed Supreme Court Justice Sonia` Sotomayor!! (Friedman screams) That was a bad mistake. (turns to Abel Domínguez, campaign treasurer) Right Abel? (Abel says “It wasâ?¦”) I mean, it's a spiritual mistake. And you know what she said? She gave a very wimpy answer. “I love Hispanics, I want Hispanics, we need Hispanics, we like Hispanicsâ?¦ but not this Hispanic.” The one time she had a chance to make the vote, she voted against `screaming` Sotomayor!!! I think that's going to hurt her, not just among Hispanics, but among people who like people with guts, you know? I don't know what happened to her nerve. She was thinking politically when she made that vote. And Rick thinks politically all the time. He just wants to be to her right. That's what these people are told: “You get to the right of her, and you win.” By the time he wins, though, he's going to be painted into such an ultraconservative right-wing corner that he is going to lose.

What's your take on the health-care debate and the town-hall meetings? Do you want reform? Is the right-wing anger legitimate?

Yes, it's definitely legitimate. Both sides, Obama and the other side, I think they have valid points. But almost everything Obama is saying about the health-care system we have here is right —— I agree with him and I do think it needs to change. It's a great system, but only the very rich or the very poor can access it. (laughs) You and I can't do it. If we were completely living on the streets we could have a better chance, or if we were very rich. But for everybody else it is a problem. Whatever they come up with in Washington will be better than George `W.` Bush's health-care policy, which was “don't get sick.” By the way, Texas is 50th in health care coverage. I don't hear Rick Perry talking about it a great much, it's not one of the things he cares about a great deal. Or if he does care about it, he has failed to make it a priority. We've never had a lack of money in Texas. Never. My dog, Mr. Magoo, could run this state for 10 years and we'd still be in the black, OK? And we could still have low unemployment. That's no great deal for Rick Perry to do that. But he has failed to set priorities that help the people of Texas. In fact, I can't see priorities at all that he set. He kind of likes wearing his nice wardrobe, you know? Nice suits, he lives in a $10,000 a month house that you and I pay for, and he likes being Governor. He's a rich guy who likes being Governor. And there's Democratic and Republican candidates who are rich people who fly around in private jets and who want to be Governor. I don't think that's a good enough reason. The last Man of the People that we had as Governor —— guess who it was? It wasn't even a man. It was Ann Richards. That's the model I'd like to follow, right there, and that's the one I think I can `follow`. In fact, think of me as Ann Richards in drag.

Don't you mind being called by some people the “Ralph Nader of Texas”?

I've done 50 interviews in the past 48 hours and nobody's mentioned that.

But some people do blame you for hurting the Democrats in 2006 â?¦

Those people are doing some fuzzy math. I made a mistake last time: I should've run as a Democrat, I've already said that. Had I ran as a Democrat, I would've gotten Chris Bell's votes and my votes and I would've beaten Rick Perry. But there is no way in hell that a candidate like Chris Bell was going to get the votes I got, because those are Independent votes, intellectual votes, Ron Paul-type people. I mean, I'm the guy who can get these disaffected Republicans to come back into the showroom, to be Democrats again like they should. I'm the one who can do that. A generic, establishment candidate is going to get beat every time, as it has happened for 17 years. What do you want? Twenty-seven years of it? Another mistake the Democratic career politicians have made, the insiders ——because this is a battle between the insiders and the outsiders——, is that they've ran very uninspiring candidates and they've ran them on demographics. They're obsessed with demographics, not ideas. I haven't seen one candidate since Ann Richards to run on ideas.

Some of your ideas include no toll roadsâ?¦

No toll roads. Roads should be paid for by casino gambling.

But some would scream “This is a Christian state! No more gambling here!”

We could do just what Rodney Ellis has proposed in the Texas Senate, and it's a great idea. With help like him, with me pushing it, I can get a public sentiment behind it, which I think it's already there, actually. And it's common sense: Have a gambling zone ——Galveston, Corpus `Christi`, places like that—— and keep Louisianaâ?¦ By the way, Louisiana is already doing better than we are in education, and we're helping them pay for it. It just doesn't make any sense: We're building their public schools and roads. In Louisiana, and Oklahoma, and New Mexico. This is got to stop. Never ask “Where is the money coming from?” I assure you, we've never had a problem, we've always had the money in the state. We just haven't had the leadership.

Three-thousand-dollars raise for teachersâ?¦

Yes, $3,000 raise for all teachers in Texas, even though they'll still be below the national average. And a three-year moratorium on insurance-rates hikes.

State tax on businessâ?¦

That should go. That's a bad one. That's a bad one.

How's Obama doing?

I think it's really early to give him a report card, but I think he's doing well. How well? I think you're going to see soon, because I think he's got the inspirational chops, if he'll use them. And he's starting to use them. I don't know where it's going to happen —— it might happen in the Middle East. It might happen in Cuba. Or it might happen in this country. But I think you're going to see good results. What pains me is to see the Washington system, the way it works. He has to pass something or they'll say he's weak. That kind of thing pains me.

If you were a senator, would you vote for Obama's health reform?

I'd vote for something, yes, absolutely.

Finally, are you serious about all this? You sound serious and make sense, but the whole Kinky persona, the whole characterâ?¦ Are you really serious about all this, or do you just like to make a point while loving the attention, because it's fun?

I am serious. I'm a serious soul. Some people don't take serious souls seriously. I don't knowâ?¦ Was Will Rogers serious? Do you think Mark Twain was serious? Do you think Chris Rock is serious? Do you think Richard Pryor was serious?

Well â?¦ Humor is a serious thing â?¦ but they didn't run for office.

They're significant people who had something to say and who may have made some good in the world. The reason they didn't get into politics is the same reason no good person does: It's a horrible place to be. Going from musician to politician is a step down, and I'm willing to take it for Texas. Am I serious? I'm still Kinky. You gotta be you or be no one. I'm as serious as Ann Richards. I'm as serious as Molly Ivins. How about that?

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