Wednesday , October 17 2018
Home / An Interview With Writer Kinky Friedman, Author of You Can Lead a Politician to Water, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Ten Commandments for Texas Politics
"I wrote this book for the same reason I ran for governor — to try to make Texas a better place."

An Interview With Writer Kinky Friedman, Author of You Can Lead a Politician to Water, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Ten Commandments for Texas Politics

This is the first part of a two-part interview

 Where does one even begin in introducing an interview with someone as… as… eccentric and interesting as Kinky Friedman?As leader of the Kinky Friedman and The Jewboys in the 1970s he sang off-beat songs like “I’m Proud to Be An Asshole From El Paso” and "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore."

In more recent years he switched from writing songs to writing books, with a series of mystery novels that are offbeat – think Florida novelist/columnist Carl Hiaasen but more wacky.

For some, Friedman first came across their radar when he ran for governor in 2006, marking the first time an independent candidate got on the ballot since Sam Houston in 1859. Running as a third-party candidate was not easy, but we’ll get to that in a minute. 

He was friends with the late great Texas Governor Ann Richards and one of my favorite columnists, Molly Ivins, as well as more Texas and country singers and musicians than I could possibly list. Ivins, in fact, provided him with his campaign slogan: “Why The Hell Not?” More on her in part two.

In his new book,You Can Lead a Politician to Water, but You Can’t Make Him Think: Ten Commandments for Texas Politics , he writes about his run for governor, his life, what he has learned and what is messed up with state and national poly-ticks (which is how he spells it, saying it stands for multiple parasites).

Where to begin? I guess when in doubt one can begin with the book’s dedication:

This book is dedicated to the 170,258 Texans, four times the number required by law, who stayed out of the primaries in order to sign our petition to get on the ballot. This archaic law, forcing people who wish to support an independent candidate not to vote in the primaries, is part of the reason no independent has gotten on the ballot for governor since Sam Houston one hundred and fifty years ago.Thanks to you folks, the “Save Yourself for Kinky” campaign was a big success and modern Texas history was written.

I dedicate this book to every one of you, including the memory of Lucille O’Brien from Breckenridge, who saved herself for Kinky, signing the petition on her 100th birthday.”

What was it like to have Lucile O’Brien sign the petition on her 100th birthday?

I never got to meet Lucille O’Brien, though we did carry on a number of animated phone conversations.  She was, not surprisingly, in rather fragile health at the time, but we talked about the old days.  For me they were back when doctors drove Buicks; for Lucille they went back to the horse and buggy.  She told me she’d never missed voting in an election or a primary in her life until this one. This time she was saving herself for Kinky to help us get on the ballot.  We both agreed that politicians of today had reached an all-time low.  One of my most trusted aides, Lt. Governor Chicken Dick, was all for making the Lucille petition-signing into a giant media event, but after talking it over with the family, we all decided, I think appropriately, simply to let it be.  I was honored beyond words to have someone who’d witnessed a century of life sign the petition to put my name on the ballot as the independent candidate for governor of Texas.  Blessed is the match that kindles the flame.  And so the torch is passed.

Why did you decide to write this book?  Who, in your opinion, should read it?

I wrote this book for the same reason I ran for governor — to try to make Texas a better place.  There are wider ramifications as well.  The children of the world have always looked up to Texas as the spiritual home of the American cowboy.  Texas is the place where we learn how to ride, shoot straight, and tell the truth.  That’s what it’s supposed to be, but it’s not what it’s become.  I believe apathy, lack of leadership, and politics as usual have been responsible for tarnishing the lone star.  I want to make her shine again.You Can Lead a Politician to Water, but You Can’t Make Him Think is for anybody who believes in the Alamo of the mind.  It is for Texans, non-Texans, and spiritual Texans, for people who got here as fast as they could and those who are still thinking about it.  Can we use some of the ideas in this book that are already working very successfully in other places?  Of course we can and we should.  So what’s stopping us?  Politics, folks.  Politics and politicians who no longer respect us, just as we no longer respect them.  I can’t think of a living politician today who truly inspires me.  Most people I talk to feel the same way.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a young person or an old person.  If you’re open to new ideas, I hope sincerely that you’ll read this book.  We can only find that place above politics if we look for it together. 

If you were to start a new political party what would you call it? Maybe the armadillo party?  

Armadillo party smells about right from here –as I've said from my recent political experience; if a candidate is not part of the 'Crips' or the 'Bloods' (Republicans or Democrats) there's no real chance to win – at least not in Texas. 

Is it far to say voter apathy is one of the main reasons you lost? You sum it up well here:

“I’m for the little fellers, not the Rockefellers, and believe me, there are lots more of us than there are of them. But, in order to bring about fundamental change, the little fellers have got to vote. Thus far, they haven’t?”

Voter apathy is the political cancer of our time.  In Texas, only 28% voted in the last governor’s race, a certain death knell to any independent candidate.  But if we’d had mandatory voting as they have in Australia, or voting on weekends to maximize the vote, or same day voter registration to get more young people and new voters into the process, the story would have been very different.  The irony and the tragedy of low voter turnout is that it suits the politicians perfectly, though they’ll never admit it.  Frankly, we deserve the lackluster leadership we’re getting.  Anytime the voter response is as low as 28% it enables the powers behind the two political parties to over-ride the will of the people.  This is what George Washington warned us about.  He was the good George W.

What will it take to get people to vote?

If we had the answer to this question, the country would be much better off than it is right now.  Don’t get me wrong.  This is a wonderful country.  But it’s been better.  And I hope and trust that we can make it better again.  The insidious problem with apathy is that it feeds on itself.   The more apathetic you get, the more certain you become that nothing will ever change.  The lamer the politicians get, the worse they represent the people, the more convinced we all become that it’s just no use to try to beat them.  The people can’t decide whether to kill ourselves or get a haircut.  We throw up our hands and say, “It’s always been this way.”  Well, yes and no.  It wasn’t this way when the great leaders in our country’s history put the will of the people above party, power, and greed.  Sadly, there are few great leaders left to inspire us.  The current crop of candidates for president demonstrates what the bi-polar political process has achieved.  You might like some of them, but it’s fair to say that none of them really inspire us the way a JFK or Bobby Kennedy, or Ronnie Reagan, or Ann Richards did.  What if we could have a President Mark Twain or a President Will Rogers?  Someone who could find that beautiful place that is above politics and genuinely reflects the basic will of the people?  Thanks to people like Karl Rove and many like him, politics has gotten a bad name and it’s one that it richly deserves. 

What do you think Ann Richards and Molly Ivins are doing in heaven right now?    

Ann and Molly are praying the Texas Democrats stop whinin' and start winnin'!

You’ve had some interesting occupations: mystery writer, aspiring governor, country singer to name a few.  Which of those was your favorite and why?

I enjoyed being a writer of fiction because it provides a perfect forum for telling the truth.  Likewise, music offers a platform for free expression unequaled almost anywhere.  As Bob Dylan said, “Art should not reflect culture; art should subvert culture.”  When you’re running for higher office it’s not quite so easy to tell the truth all the time.  But you have to try.  To survive and prevail in politics as a truth-teller and a dealer in hope, is the greatest challenge of them all.

Are you going to run again? Why or why not? Do you think you affected the campaign?

I don’t know if I’m going to run again but if I do it’ll most likely be in 2010 which seems light years away.  If I run it’ll be as a democrat because I believe the Democratic Party listens more closely to the voice of the people.  I would run to bring back some of the Ann Richards-Molly Ivins spirit that the party seems to have lost with the loss of these two great voices.  I would hope to bring a large number of independents into the campaign as well.

As (cyclist) Lance Armstrong mentioned, there are a lot of reasons not to run these days.  There are, however, three good reasons why I would like to run.  They are: education, health care, and the death penalty.In my memory, the state of education in Texas has never been more pathetic.  Teaching to a test is not the same as teaching.  Indeed, it’s the very opposite.  We must say “Adios, mofo” to the TAKS test and put the teachers back in charge whatever it takes.  If I had four years, I believe I could do that.Health care coverage is also in the toilet in Texas.  As I’m typing this, little children are dying right here in Texas just because the politicians in Austin and Washington can’t get their act together. 

I don’t really believe any politician wants to see little children die because they’re not covered by health insurance.  They’re just so busy concentrating on party, power, and greed — not to mention getting re-elected — that they don’t have time to worry about it much.  Minnesota’s #1 in health care coverage; Texas is 50th.  Minnesota puts a surcharge on insurance companies and hospitals thereby creating a fund to pay health care costs for everyone.  Why doesn’t Texas?  We can afford it — not to mention paying our teachers; we’re the second-richest state in the whole country.Finally, there’s the death penalty.  Texas executes more people than all the other states put together.  If you’re a good Christian, Jew, or Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. you know this is simply not our job. 

Besides, do you trust the same people who can’t run a post office to execute people in your name?  I no longer trust the government, folks, and neither do 89% of the American people.  If Texas abolishes the death penalty, the whole world will stand up and cheer for Texas and we’ll move to the head of the class in America—where we belong.  And if we’re so sure we’re not killing any innocent people, why don’t we have the courage to DNA death row?  I’m just asking these questions.  If I were governor, I promise you, the death penalty would be gone like the TAKS test and the Dodo Bird.  It’s time to lead the American parade.  It’s time to do the right thing.

And with that thought, I’ll pause this interview.  Part two will be published one week from today.

 

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin.He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one.He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle.He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

Check Also

Photo of Sonia Sotomayor

National Book Festival: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Author of ‘Turning Pages: My Life Story’

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor released two new books, bringing her inspirational life story to children.