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NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Kinky for Governor in '06?
Singer, Songwriter, Detective Author Enters the Race in Texas
(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

Here's why I want to interfere in the politics of my native state and endorse a candidate for governor of the great state of Texas in '06.

It's partly because I like seeing musicians do things they're not expected to do, especially when they get into areas that people think they shouldn't be messing with. It's also because I think that politics have gotten to be so important that they shouldn't be left to the politicians. And because most people I've known that are actually involved with politics full time are what I can charitably describe as slimeballs.

There is also a tradition -- not necessarily a great one -- of country singers running for political office. Some actually won. With mixed results. Jimmie Davis, who went from singing such ditties as "Tom Cat and Pussy Blues" to the country anthem "You Are My Sunshine," was elected governor of Louisiana in 1944 and 1960. W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel was an executive with the Burrus Mill company in Fort Worth, Texas, when he founded the Light Crust Doughboys (named after Burrus' Light Crust Flour), the western swing band that included the great Bob Wills. "Pass the Biscuits Pappy" O'Daniel -- as he came to be nicknamed -- then formed the Hillbilly Flour company, started the western swing group the Hillbilly Boys and was elected Texas governor in 1938 and 1940 and defeated future President Lyndon B. Johnson in a race for the U.S. Senate in 1941. He was not terribly effective in office.

"King of Country Music" Roy Acuff ran unsuccessfully for governor of Tennessee in 1948. Elton Britt, who is best-known for recording country music's first gold single ("There's a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere") during World War II, launched a brief run for president of the U.S. in 1960 with his campaign manager, Little Darlin' Records founder Aubrey Mayhew (who later became the premier collector of John F. Kennedy memorabilia). Cowboy singing great Tex Ritter lost a race for nomination for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee in 1970.

Now comes Kinky Friedman, who has announced he'll run for governor of Texas in '06. And he's got my endorsement, such as it is.

In addition to the musician-as-candidate, of course, there's the phenomenon of celebrity-as-candidate. Now we're in an age of amateurs as officeholders when the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger can run California. When former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura was elected to the governorship of Minnesota and finally grasped the cold realities of the political arena, Kinky observed that Ventura ultimately realized that wrestling is real and politics are fixed.

Kinky is actually one of the better songwriters to swing through Nashville in the past 30 years. I first met him in about 1972 when I was a student at the University of Texas at Austin and he was playing a little show at the Hillel Foundation on campus with his newly-formed band, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys. He blew the lid off the joint. People were wailing and crying over "The Ballad of Charles Whitman" (about the Texas tower sniper), feminists were screaming at him over the song "Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed" and others were shaking their heads over "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore." Those were great shows. When I started writing about him for Rolling Stone, the first story was headlined "Band of Unknowns Fails to Emerge." Kinky liked that, and we became friends.

He spent a few years in Nashville, where I once saw him actually introduced on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry House as the "first full-blooded Jew" to ever trod those sacred boards. He recorded some good to great music, but the record labels knew he was too specialized a taste to ever have much commercial potential. Nashville didn't take, and he divided his time between Texas and New York City.

Over the years, he's become a writer of popular mystery novels, starring himself as chief detective along with his real-life friends as characters. (I was proud to be a murder suspect in A Case of Lone Star.) He has also, with such causes as his Animal Rescue Ranch in Utopia, Texas, touched on popular issues with many people.

He's also put his boots under the bed in the Lincoln bedroom in the White House as a visitor to both the Clinton and Bush W administrations, but that's neither here nor there. Like Billy Graham, he ministers to Democrats and Republicans alike, I suppose. His current campaign is not a joke, although that's how the media is happy to portray it.

When Kinky ran for justice of the peace in Kerrville, Texas in 1986, I went down to his ranch near Kerrville to hang with him for a few days during the election. He lost, but I saw him bond with a lot of people from all stripes of the American political landscape. Although he made the jokes that made the headlines ("I'll keep us out of war with Fredericksburg," "I'll lower the speed limit to 54.95"), he ran a fairly serious race. For the gubernatorial race, he has vowed to wage a populist campaign against the "wussification" of Texas, a state that has been neutered by political correctness run amok. I'll drink to that.

The man is a true American original.

Sometime, go and listen to the song "Sold American." Anyone who can write a song that good has a better grasp on the American psyche than any glad-hander from any downtown political organization. Is his run for the office futile? Is it tilting at windmills? Doesn't matter. It needs to be done for its own sake. And you can truly never predict the results. If he should somehow win, he can always demand a recount.

I know one thing. By and large, the most interesting and decent and caring people I have met throughout my life have been musicians. I would trust some of them with the stewardship of this country far more than I would the feckless, ambitious, ruthless and amoral professional politicians who have come to dominate public life. With advisers such as Willie Nelson and Billy Joe Shaver, Kinky can certainly do no worse than his predecessors.

Can a decent person survive in politics? There is no evidence thus far to suggest that this possibility exists.

Still, I embrace his race for the office. Kinky for governor of Texas. Why not? Who can do better?
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