Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Just Picture the Gubernatorial Balls!

[[P O L I T I C S]] * It’s a damnably slippery slope. First, Ronald Reagan used his B-movie career and tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild to poll-vault into the California governor’s office in 1967, as a Republican. Then, we had professional wrestler and Reform Party candidate Jesse “The Body” Ventura winning a race for Minnesota governor back in 1998. He was followed by bodybuilder-turned-action-movie star Arnold Schwarzenneger, another Republican, who pulled off a surprise victory in the 2003 recall election for California governor (though given his mounting troubles, Schwarzenneger’s no more likely to serve a second term than was Ventura). Now comes Richard F. “Kinky” Friedman, a Chicago-born but Texas-bred country-western singer, songwriter, and author of tongue-in-cheek mystery novels (The Prisoner of Vandam Street, Ten Little New Yorkers), who has tossed his black Stetson into the ring as an independent candidate for Texas governor.

Campaigning on the witty appeal of slogans such as “Why the Hell Not?” and “How Hard Could It Be?” (the latter an apparent allusion to Texas’ most recent two governors, Rick Perry and George W. Bush), 60-year-old, cigar-chomping bachelor Kinky is promoting education reform, the abolishment of political correctness, and the “dewussification” of the Lone Star State. He’s currently trolling for the 45,000 signatures he needs to get into this race, “all of which must be collected in the two months following the party primaries, next March. (Given that thirty thousand volunteers have already signed up to help on the campaign, this looks probable.),” reports The New Yorker, in a fine and funny piece by Dan Halpern. “For the time being, he intends to capitalize on voter dissatisfaction, and on whatever’s left of the tradition of Texas populism. In his latest book, a collection of essays called ‘Texas Hold ’Em,’ he writes, ‘My platform is to remember that when they went out searching for Sam Houston to try to persuade him to be the governor--and he was the greatest governor this state has ever had--rumor has it that they found him drunk, sleeping under a bridge with the Indians.”

Kinky’s foremost challenge at this point may be just to convince voters that he’s a serious candidate, without losing his appeal as an out-of-leftfield contender. So far, Texas’ Republican gubernatorial primary is attracting the greatest attention, with Perry, the incumbent (and a follower of the embattled Tom DeLay), likely to face off against both U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. No Democrats have yet entered this contest, though the party’s chances of gaining ground may be improved with this summer’s special-session failure, by the Republican-dominated legislature, to come up with a new school-financing plan. Paul Begala, a CNN political analyst and former Clinton advisor, told The New Yorker that Kinky’s pursuit of the governor’s chair is “‘still, obviously, a Hail Mary, but the conditions are there.’ He pointed to the likelihood of a weak Democratic candidate and of a vicious and divisive G.O.P. primary. ‘Kinky desperately needs a scandal,’ he said, but, he added, that’s hardly out of the realm of possibility, with grand-jury investigations of a number of prominent Texas Republicans. ‘I think the stakes are lower in Texas, and Texans understand that,’ he said, referring to the fact that the governor’s power in Texas is, compared with other states, limited. ‘We’re unlikely to go to war with Oklahoma.’”

Reagan, Ventura, Schwarzenneger, and now the Kinkster. Who next, Jessica Simpson running for Congress? Carl Hiaasen for governor of Florida? At least the candidacy of actor Christopher Walken for president of the United States appears to be a hoax. For the time being, anyway.

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