The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

In Memory of Kinky Friedman

The Wacoan revisits the “Kinkster’s” unique take on Texas politics

3 weeks ago

By Mary Landon Darden

Kinky Friedman, among the last of a long line of Texas progressive political figures that included Ann Richards, Sissy Farenthold, and Molly Ivins, passed away today at the age of 79.  His candid truth-telling — usually served with a hefty dose of humor — will be sorely missed, particularly in these acrimonious political times. I had the privilege to interview him in 2005 when he was running for Governor in Texas. Here is that interview for those of you who could use a good belly laugh right about now.        

 

Christmas Wishes with Kinky Friedman

By Mary Landon Darden

(Published in The Wacoan Magazine, December 2005)

We met just before Christmas in 2005 at one of Kinky’s favorite Austin hangouts, the Nirvana for Dr Pepper lovers, the Texicalli Grill. He had the Chili Cheeseburger, onion rings and the famous Dr Pepper milkshake — made from the “real” cane sugar version brought back from Dublin by owner Danny Young — a sumptuous feast that, I imagined if indulged in too often, could leave arteries as clogged as our current political system. Imagine this eclectic, hippiesque part of South Austin with a combo California / Texas cow-town flair, red chili-pepper Christmas lights illuminating armadillos, and the Texicalli 45-cent jukebox playing Santabilly Boogie by the Blue Moon Boys. After dinner, Kinky tipped back his black cowboy hat, propped a boot on an empty chair and commenced to waxing politically poetic. Beneath his veil of lusty hilarity is a basic and biting truth that brands hearts and calls back to the founding spirit of this once-great State of Texas. Kinky was running for Governor of the state he loved. This was a rare moment to be stricken with reality, while at the same time laughing so uproariously that milkshake bubbles out your nose. It’s a gift…once again… from “The Kinkster” to you. Enjoy!

WACOAN: What do you want for Christmas?

Kinky Friedman: I love Texas; I would like to see that feeling be mutual, which I think it is in a lot of places. And I’d like for people to elect me for telling the truth. That would be what I’d want for Christmas.

WACOAN: What do you want for Christmas for Texas?

Friedman: For Texas, I’d like to see a governor who wants to do something for Texas and who can do something for Texas and who will do something for Texas.

WACOAN: Can you tell us a little about the main thrust of your campaign for governor?

Friedman: I’m running as an independent. I strongly feel that one of the main issues is the fact that the Democrats and Republicans have let us all down, that they’ve disappointed Texas. The only time they get off their butts to do anything is to attack each other. And the leadership of both parties seems to me to be the same guy admiring himself in the mirror. So, I think the men who died at the Alamo died to give us this chance — for the Lone Star State to finally, after 146 years, elect an independent. The last one was Sam Houston. This is our chance, and this is our time, a quintessential moment.

WACOAN: What would you like to see Santa bring Governor Rick Perry for Christmas?

Friedman: (Laughing.) That’s a good one. I think it’s almost too late for that. It’s really too late for Santa to help Governor Perry. You know, when you think about what he and the legislature have done — all you’ve got is cheerleading legislation and gay marriage [ban]. I think it’s too late for him to address the issues of education and the border, which I think are the two biggest problems facing Texas. And maybe if Santa gave him a swift kick in the ass, he might wake up to the fact that our border policy for six years has been: Bring us your tired, your poor, your drugs, your bombs, your terrorists, your guns — welcome to Texas. That’s been our policy, and that has just got to stop. And education, of course, I’ll just say what I always do: No teacher left behind. And in order to accomplish this, I’m afraid we’re going to have to leave one governor behind. So maybe Santa should bring us — maybe Rick would like a, oh I don’t know. I don’t know what he drinks. I’d like a bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey.

WACOAN: What might Governor Perry find in his stocking Christmas morning?

Friedman: He might find a little note that says Texas has now dropped to 50th in education. Mississippi will be saying: “Thank God for Texas!” I don’t think he’ll find the well wishes from many teachers. He has (?) in education at your own peril.

WACOAN: Switching to the national scene, if you were to design a new ornament for the Christmas tree at the White House, what would it look like?

Friedman: Maybe something with dollar signs on it might be nice. I think Christmas and Hanukkah have gotten more associated with the commercial one-eyed giant. This is something that Gandhi (referred to), the “one-eyed giant of the West” — that means we have five cars and four houses, and we still don’t have a home. That means that we’re wonderful in science and technology, but we don’t have the wisdom of the East. The East where people are afraid of lightning and eclipses — that don’t understand all the science that we have — but at least they are part of a tribe, they’re close to the land and to their family, and they have a home. In the West, we’re losing those things. I would like to say about Christmas, that there are some things that children can grasp besides presents, (things) that we have forgotten.

WACOAN: Do you have any specific wishes for President Bush for Christmas or Hanukkah? Or for his staff?

Friedman: Well, I wish George all the best, I think he is a good man trapped in a Republican’s body. And the farther we can get out of those trappings, the better off we’ll be, I think. I’ve said before, that not only are most Texans independent, most Americans are, too. We need to re-establish that linkage with the men of the Alamo and the Founding Fathers and ask ourselves: Did these great people want this small [voter] turnout? Like 29 percent (that) we had in the last governor’s race? We spent $100 million and got 29 percent of the voters to vote. The answer is that the last thing the governor wants to see is a big turnout. He wants a small turnout again because that would mean he’d hold on to power. I’m just trying to get more people into the process, and I realize George W. can’t help me very much because of what his party tells him. That’s how I can support prayer in school and gay marriage — I’m the only candidate who can do that. The parties won’t allow the others to do it. The parties tell them what to vote. So, I say I support prayer in schools because what’s wrong with a kid believing in something? And I support gay marriage because they have every right to be just as miserable as everybody else. And I say, you may not agree with me on everything that I believe in but at least I’m independent-thinking and I’m honest. And that’s why people should vote for me.

WACOAN: Is your band doing any special performances for the holidays?

Friedman: We’ve been on sabbatical for about 30 years now, so we don’t play very often. (Laughing.) Unless, a good exception would be [the chance to play with] Billy Joe Shaver or Willie or something like that. Right now, we’re too busy campaigning to really do much music. I do think musicians would better run the state than politicians.

WACOAN: Why’s that?

Friedman: Honesty again. But we won’t get a lot done in the mornings, probably, if musicians were to run the state. But at least we’d be honest, and I think that affects everybody else. That would be something new. Not only do I want musicians, but I want beauticians. I want anybody but politicians in there because I have the idea that I want them to appoint the best people simply because they are the very best people. And I want to get the hell out of their way and let them do their job. This is what Katrina showed us — you shouldn’t appoint somebody’s roommate as head of FEMA. I mean the guy was doing a pretty good job, you know, until the hurricane came along. Then when the hurricane came along, it showed all up and down the line the difference between bureaucracy and leadership. And there was not a Rudy Giuliani or a Winston Churchill in the bunch. And that means these people were politically appointed for their patronage. When a blind man is taken out of New Orleans and his seeing eye dog is left in his flooded house — that’s bureaucracy. I feel very strongly that the kind of people I will appoint, particularly in education, will be people who have seen the inside of a classroom. As you know, it takes a real dumbass not to understand the value of an education. I will also say that in education, we have got to get rid of teaching to the test. That has got to go. That I believe is one of the big, big handicaps that have hurt us tremendously, that penalize the special-ed kids and the gifted kids at the same time. The TAKS has got to go. That’s just a start. The teachers are getting screwed, the retired teachers are getting screwed — from every side, and they do not have a friend or an advocate in the governor’s mansion. But they will. Trust me, I’m a Jew – I’ll hire good people.

WACOAN: What do you think of Waco and Wacoans?

Friedman: Waco has a very rich, diverse and interesting heritage. Of course, there’s no shame in that Pat Green is from there, too. Pat’s mother, Nancy Green, was the one who gave me the idea for the Texas Peace Corps — which she might be a good one to head it up — which is retired people coming back to the public school system. It’s also kind of a “Habitat for Humanity” type of idea that would not depend on the (Texas) Legislature; something that is a volunteer organization. Nancy is the one who told me — I was complaining that the arts and music and shop and everything has been taken out of public schools, nothing left but the tests. And she said she could spend a half an hour with a fourth-grade class and teach them how to balance a checkbook, and they would never forget. And I said that’s a great skill because I’m a Jew who can’t balance a checkbook. I don’t know how to do it. If I had learned how to do it, that would’ve been great. The retired people are really the ones with the wisdom and the love to give. I think the Texas Peace Corps would be a great idea. On top of everything else that has to be done for education, the first thing — we need to put education as the centerpiece on the table of Texas. If teachers are truly our heroes, let’s call that great teacher we all had. Let’s see where he or she is now…probably in some under-resourced school — still sending out great results. Let’s bring that person to Austin, or let’s bring Austin to that person. Let’s let people like lead us; let’s learn from them.

WACOAN: How is signature collecting going?

Friedman: We have none; we cannot start until the day of the primaries, until midnight on March 8. That’s when we legally can start, and then we have two months to gather 50,000 signatures, and then we’ll be on the ballot. If you vote in the primaries of ’06, you’re not eligible to sign the petition. So, we’re asking everybody: “Please don’t vote in the primaries of ’06. Save yourself for Kinky.” We are, by the way, the only state that has that law. There used to be eight or nine states, but they all got rid of it – except for the Lone Star State.  All it does is help keep the Independent off the ballot. I think we’re going to challenge that in court. They have done a wonderful job of keeping Independents off the ballot for 146 years and this time they are not going to succeed.  People who want to help us can go to the website, kinkyfriedman.com.  Lots and lots of people are volunteering to help [collect signatures] all over Texas. A revolution is in the air.

WACOAN: Can you sign the petition online?

Friedman: No, you cannot. There’s no common sense at all. Like my spiritual adviser, Billy Joe Shaver, says about politicians: “You can lead a politician to water, but you can’t make him think.” Common sense is what is lacking in elected leadership today. Common sense and maybe a touch of humor would be nice, and a little bit of spirituality wouldn’t be bad, either. I mean, real spirituality, not the kind of spirituality that champions campaigning against gay marriage so you can tighten your political base. I don’t like to see God used as a marketing tool.

WACOAN: What has been the most hostile crowd that you’ve spoken to during campaigning, and what’s been the friendliest?

I’ve not run into a hostile crowd yet; I’m sure they’re there. But lately it’s been a lovefest. I think everybody from the kids — you know, it’ll be the first time they’re voting, and they’re determined to make their vote mean something — are very excited. As you know, they are traditionally very apathetic about politics, but they are really getting into this campaign. And the old folks like me — the last-chance for romance crowd — are very into the campaign, like the guy at the pig barn at the Texas State Fair. He told me two weeks ago: “Kinky, you may not be worth a damn, but you’re better than what we’ve got.” That’s a tough old slogan. And then Willie Nelson sent me a good one a few days ago: “Criticize me all you want, but don’t circumcise me anymore!” (Laughing.)

WACOAN: That’s the next thing I was going to get to — campaign slogans and bumper stickers. I’ve noticed a few; do you have any favorites?

Friedman:  There are lots: “How hard can it be?” is good. “Why the hell not?” makes a lot of sense to a lot of people. People say I have a lot of slogans and one-liners, but I like to point out that Colonel Travis only had one line at the Alamo, and he drew it in the sand. At that moment, that was when Texas was truly born. I’m not drawing it in the sand; I’m drawing it in their hearts. I’m asking every Texan to cross that line with me and make that Lone Star shine again.

WACOAN: How would you decorate the governor’s mansion for the holidays if you were to find yourself there next time?

Friedman: I was hoping that my dogs, the five Friedmans, would be with me there, of course. They’re very excited to move out to the governor’s mansion. I would do things traditionally. I’m married to Texas; I don’t really have a wife or a family, or any children — of whom I am aware. So, every kid is my kid, every Texan is my friend.  It’s about the business of running the State of Texas. My wife and family would not be running the state of Texas; I would be running the state of Texas.  So, I would appoint somebody — again who is not a “Democrat” or “Republican,” but somebody who was passionate about decorating the Governor’s Mansion. That’s the way to do it, and not with somebody who has his hand in Texas’ pocket or who the party tells me needs to be appointed now. I don’t think decorating the governor’s mansion is real significant — I think it will be a lot looser, more fun, more accessible to people. There will be a listed phone number for the governor for the first time where people could actually call during certain hours of the day and talk to the governor. Because this governor —Rick Perry, with respect — is out of touch, not just with the teachers and young people, but with the working people.  And I think we’re the spirit of the state. I am not picking on Rick.  This is not Kinky Friedman versus Rick Perry. This is Kinky Friedman versus apathy.

WACOAN: What special thing will you bring down Texans’ chimneys as the new governor in Austin?

Friedman: I like the idea that my very election will put a smile on everybody’s face, not just in Texas but all over the country. A little more giddy-up in everybody’s step, if you’re a Texan. When an Independent finally wins in November ‘06, you’ll see bluebonnets springing up all over America. And every career politician will feel a chill at the spine, because politics is the only field where the more experience you have, the worse you get. Never re-elect anybody, that’s what I say.

WACOAN: If Santa were going to bring the voters of Texas advice for Christmas, what would he say? What would the elves say?

Friedman: Santa would say be sure and register to vote. Everybody register to vote, because in Texas you can’t register during the election like you can in Minnesota, where Jesse Ventura won. That’s partly how he won, because people could register the same day. In Texas, we make everything harder. We make it harder to vote; we might as well reinstate a poll tax, you know? We already have all of these hoops that you have to jump through just to get on the ballot.  I think the elves would remind everybody not to vote. Don’t vote in the primaries of ’06. Save yourself for Kinky. This is really a chance to liberate Texas. If you do those two things and sign our petition, which will be in March, we’ll be able to get on the ballot. And the moment we get on the ballot, you’ll hear that loud sucking sound that Ross Perot spoke of. When we’re on that ballot, I think the career politicians better hang on tight, pull hard and let her buck.

WACOAN: If you found yourself caught under the mistletoe at the Texas capitol, who is the last person you’d want to find yourself with and why?

Friedman: (Laughing.) I’m not that bad. You know I’m open to women at all times — in fact, I probably need a focus-group to help me pick a First Lady. There are very few girls I wouldn’t mind kissing.  I have kissed a lot of dogs in my life, too.  So, kissing a dog or a woman would be fine.  There’s nobody I can think of.

WACOAN:  Is there any Christmas message you would like to send to the people of Waco in closing?

Friedman: Holidays I usually sleep through like a bad dream.  I guess as Governor I’ll not be able to do that, would I?  You see, this is the problem, for six years we’ve had a guy that’s done just that.  The guy has taken care of all the window-dressing.  He’s a real ribbon-cutter.  He’s gotten out there and cut ribbons and totally ignored the real issues facing Texas. The politicians think my campaign is a joke or some kind of protest. The people don’t think that.  This campaign represents the truth.  The truth is that Texas has been sold out – to the lobbyists, the special interest groups, and the political parties themselves.  Texas has been put on eBay.  So, I want to take it off of eBay and give Texas back to the people.

I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and may the God of your choice bless you.