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But Seriously, Folks
Kinky promises big changes. He'll legalize casino gambling and use the proceeds to fund public schools -- "slots for tots." He's the only candidate in the race -- or maybe anywhere -- who supports both school prayer and gay marriage. ("They have a right to be as miserable as the rest of us," he explains.) He'll clamp down on illegal immigration. And he'll run the state's school buses on the biodiesel fuel that Willie Nelson uses to propel his tour bus.
"We can make Texas number one in renewable fuels -- which is a helluva lot better than being number one in executions, toll roads, property taxes and dropouts!"
The crowd cheers and Kinky tells them that he can win this race. In the 2002 gubernatorial election, he says, only 29 percent of the voters even bothered to show up.
"Last time, they spent $100 million just to drive 71 percent of us away from the polls," he says. "This time, that 71 percent is coming roarin' back -- with pitchforks ! -- to throw the money-changers out of the temple!"
After the speech, Kinky's supporters swarm the merchandise table to contribute to his campaign by purchasing posters, T-shirts and a $29.95 Kinky doll that utters a couple of dozen of his one-liners when you push a button on its back. "How hard can it be?" the doll says. And: "I can't screw things up any worse than they already have."
An hour later, Kinky is still autographing these items for a long line of fans. It's hot, and he's sweating in a shirt he's already worn for two days. He turns to Jeff Shelby, his childhood friend and campaign chauffeur, and whispers, "Man, I just smelled my shirt -- whew!"
Shelby laughs -- he had told Kinky to bring more shirts -- then Kinky sticks his cigar back into his mouth, lays his wilted black sleeves across the shoulders of two middle-age women and smiles for a cellphone picture.
A Four-Way Race
Kinky Friedman is just a part -- one-quarter, to be exact -- of what Texas Monthly recently called "The Weirdest Governor's Race of All Time."
The Republican candidate is the incumbent, Rick Perry, whose amazing anchorman coiffure inspired the nickname "Governor Good Hair." In 2002, Perry won election with 58 percent of the vote. Since then his popularity has plummeted, the victim of an unpopular school finance plan and a new business tax. Recently, 15 longtime Republican contributors expressed their displeasure over the business tax by writing him checks -- for a penny or two.
One anti-Perry Republican, state Comptroller Carole Keeton McClellan Rylander Strayhorn, is running for governor as an independent. She's a formidable candidate: In 2002, campaigning for comptroller on the slogan "One Tough Grandma," Strayhorn -- the mother of former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan -- won 246,000 more votes than Perry. But her name was Rylander then and her new name doesn't have the same recognition, so she asked to appear on this year's ballot as Carole Keeton "Grandma" Strayhorn. The elections folks declined that request, ruling that "Grandma" isn't a nickname, it's a slogan.
The Democrats, who haven't won a statewide race in Texas since 1994, nominated Chris Bell, an obscure former one-term congressman from Houston. Bell doesn't have a nickname, but he's frequently referred to as "What's-his-name, the Democrat."
And then there's Kinky, the author of 23 books and dozens of country songs as leader of the 1970s band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys. Kinky's repertoire included the classic anti-bigot anthem "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore," which not only contains nearly every ethnic slur imaginable, but also manages to rhyme "Aristotle Onassis" with "ethnocentric racist." (His sidekick, Shelby, played piano in the Jewboys under the nickname "Jewford," and he became semi-famous in Texas himself.)