Kinky's Run For Governor Of Texas

<b>Morley Safer</b> Meets The Unconventional Candidate

This story originally aired on Jan. 22, 2006.
There has been no shortage of great characters in the governor's mansion of the great state of Texas.

There was Ma Ferguson, who, on the subject of teaching foreign languages, said if English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for Texans. And there was Sam Houston, who beat an opposing politician, literally throttled him with his cane.

There was Ann Richards, who described George Bush senior as "Poor George, he was born with a silver foot in his mouth."

Well, the latest eccentric with his eye on the prize may be the oddest ball of all, a man who boasts he never held a real job, did have a real drug problem, gets his biggest kicks from offending people, yet maintains a surprisingly large following. As Morley Safer first reported last winter, Texas's leading singing Jewish cowboy, Kinky Friedman, is campaigning as an independent to be the next governor of the Lone Star State.

"Politics is the only field in which the more experience you have, the worse you get," says Friedman. "And I think musicians can better run this state than politicians. And, hell, beauticians can better run the state than politicians."

When he was reminded that musicians are not known for their excellent work habits, Friedman replied, "OK, so we're not gonna get a lot done early in the mornings. All right? But you know what [musicians] are? They're honest. They're honest. And I want people, in this administration, that don't care about the Republicans and don't care about the Democrats, but care about Texas. That's what I passionately care about."

Does he think Texas is ready for a Jewish governor?

"Absolutely. Listen, I tell people, trust me, I'm a Jew, I'll hire good people," Friedman says.

Friedman is optimistic, but before he assumes office, he has one minor item on his to-do list: beating a sitting Republican governor - Rick Perry - in a heavily Republican state.

It sounds impossible, except for one fact: in the last governor's race only 29 percent of voters showed up at the polls, making Texas fertile ground for a popular outsider.

Friedman admits he is going after some part of that 71 percent, the people who didn't make it to the polls in the last gubernatorial election. "And we're going after the young people. The teachers. Every crazy redneck in Texas is already supporting me. It is not Kinky Friedman versus Rick Perry. It's Kinky Friedman versus apathy," he says.

His two main issues are illegal immigration — he wants to close the border until Mexico cracks down — and education. He's running as the teacher's best friend.

On the campaign trail, Friedman is one candidate who needs no introduction. Everybody, it seems, wants to get a little Kinky.

For decades, Friedman has had a cult following, singing about subjects no one else would go near, like the Holocaust and racism. His band's name, "Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys," was designed to offend. For Friedman, the country cliché of lost love was never enough. Among his greatest hits: "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore."

That song led to threats by both Jewish groups and anti-Semites, though they all failed to see he was trying to point out the ignorance of bigotry.

Was anger what motivated him as a songwriter?

"No, I don't think that was. I think telling the truth is what did," says Friedman. "Telling the truth is what I do and as, you know, the old Turkish proverb … 'If you tell the truth, have one foot in the stirrup.' "