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Meet Jim Hogan, Democratic Mystery Man

Jim Hogan had no money, no campaign and no political experience. So how did he beat Kinky Friedman and Hugh Fitzsimons in the race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner?
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Jim Hogan
Cleburne Times-Review
Jim Hogan

Some candidates win by working their butts off, shaking hands, kissing babies and speaking to Rotary Clubs. Others prevail by raising and spending more cash. And some, like Jim Hogan, just sit back, relax and wait for God to work a miracle.

Hogan had a lot of folks asking “Who the hell is Jim Hogan?” last night, when the Cleburne insurance salesman placed first in a three-way Democratic primary for Texas agriculture commissioner. He bested Hugh Fitzsimons III and landed in a runoff with Kinky Friedman.

Hogan spent less than $5,000, maintains no campaign website, has never been involved in politics and ran his entire campaign, if you can call it that, from his home computer. Fitzsimons, on the other hand, appeared at events with Wendy Davis, hired professional consultants and produced slick campaign literature. Fitzsimons, a bison farmer from the San Antonio area, spent $40,000 and had more than $85,000 on hand when he lost. He got 23 percent of the vote while Hogan pulled in 39 percent. Kinky came in second with 38 percent.

So how did Hogan do it? Or was it just a fluke, a result of the near anonymity of candidates in the weak Democratic field for almost all statewide offices?

I talked to Hogan today, and he attributes his victory to the Almighty.

“It was a miracle and only God could’ve pulled it off,” he told me. “That doesn’t sell papers and you may think that’s corny but I truly believe it.”

I can understand why God wouldn’t want the atheistic Kinky Friedman representing God’s Party but what about Fitzsimons, who actually campaigned?

Hogan scoffs at the idea that “the Establishment” has anything to teach him.

“When I called Democrats and told them I was gonna be on the ticket first thing they said was, ‘How long you been in politics?’ I said, ‘I’m not no politician.’ They said, ‘Let me tell you something: It takes a lot of money to win a state race and you can’t win.’ I said, ‘Let me tell you something, y’all haven’t won since 1994.’”

And that’s true enough. Democrats have lost every single one of the last 100 or so statewide races since 1994. Hogan thought he’d try something a little different: He wouldn’t really campaign.

“Basically I run on the internet and a phone,” he said. “My motto is: My phone and Internet can outrun any jet plane or car across the state of Texas. I don’t have to be there.”

But how did voters know about him at all? Details about his candidacy only appear in a handful of small-town papers.

“All you gotta do is Google my name—’jim hogan ag commissioner’—and there’s enough on there.”

Hogan says he signed up for the Democratic ticket only because the field was weaker than the Republican slate, which featured five candidates.

“I can’t whup all five of ‘em but I might whup one of ‘em,” he said. “Sign me up!”

To be fair, Hogan has more experience than Kinky Friedman with farm and ranch affairs. He says he’s been involved in agriculture from childhood and ran a dairy farm from 1973 to 2005. Now in the insurance business, Hogan can speak at length about the economics of irrigated agriculture and the functions of the Texas Department of Agriculture. Still, he doesn’t have much of a platform.

“You’ve gotta get in and meet the people, see what’s been going on in the past. It’s just like running a business, you gotta get your hands around it.”\n\nThe reality is that Hogan is precisely the wrong person to be asking for answers to why he won. The Texas Democratic primaries produce all sorts of weird and unexpected results. Kesha Rogers, the LaRouche Democrat who wants to colonize Mars, has won two nominations for Congress and is in a runoff to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in November. Wendy Davis lost the primary last night in a number of border counties to political unknown Ray Madrigal.

For years, Gene Kelly, a vanity candidate who refused to give interviews or campaign, would give mainstream Democratic candidates a run for their money. One could go on… Democrats face a Catch-22: Strong candidates typically don’t want to run statewide because they’ll almost certainly lose to a Republican, but weak candidates draw little interest and excitement from the Democratic base. Anecdotally, I asked half a dozen partisan Democrats today who they voted for in the ag race. Not one could remember.

In any case. the Kinky-Hogan runoff will present an interesting choice for Democrats:

Do you vote for the opportunistic joke candidate who appears to be more interested in hawking his merch than actually winning, or the good-natured country boy who hasn’t done any campaigning?

Hogan’s keeping a positive attitude regardless.

“If you don’t win, no big deal, go home.”

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.