The Ag Race: Kinky vs. That Other Guy

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UPDATED AT 9:49 p.m.: Hank Gilbert is looking like the winner.

He’s still holding an 8-point lead with 42 percent of the vote in. That’s not an insurmountable margin, but it’s looking good for Gilbert.

Many rural counties still haven’t reported, but Kinky would have to win by astronomical margins in those areas to mount a comeback. The word is that Kinky won’t concede tonight, and his event is winding down.

In fact, Kinky apparently just left his own election-night party. I guess that’s my cue to head out too.

It seems Hank Gilbert — who lost the ag commissioner race to Todd Staples by 13 points in 2006 — will be the Democratic nominee.

Knew I should have driven to Tyler…..

 

UPDATED AT 9:18 p.m.: Laid back scene at Kinky’s election night gathering in East Austin. About 60 supporters milling around munching on Mexican food in a side room at Nuevo Leon in East Austin. The biggest cheer of the night so far came when Kinky made his first appearance not long ago.

At the moment, Kinky trails Hank Gilbert by 8 percent (55-46) with about 20 percent of the vote counted.

 

UPDATED AT 7:48 p.m.: Hank Gilbert has the early lead—a very early lead. With barely 2 percent of the precincts reporting, Gilbert leads Kinky 54 percent to 46 percent. All early-voting results at this point. With so few precincts reporting, it’s still anyone’s race. More to come.

 

A few months ago, I never would have imagined that on primary night, one of the more intriguing elections would be the Democratic race for agriculture commissioner.

For one, ag commissioner isn’t the glitziest statewide office. You’d have to rank it at least fifth—behind governor, lite gov., attorney general, and comptroller.

Then there’s the fact that Texas Democrats haven’t captured a single statewide election in 16 years. (Think about that: Most high school sophomores weren’t even alive the last time a Democrat won statewide.) So the race was shaping up as a lost-cause Democratic primary for a low-profile office.

Until Kinky Friedman shocked most observers by dropping his bid for governor and jumping in the race. So too did Hank Gilbert, who critics accused of accepting a pay off to leave the governor’s race. That made a few headlines. Then the candidates started sniping at each other.

Suddenly, a race that looked downright irrelevant six months ago had become a barn burner.

There’s no doubt that Gilbert, an East Texas rancher, knows more about agriculture policy than the Kinkster. (You can read Gilbert’s proposals here.)

Kinky’s race for the ag post is similar to his run for governor in 2006—a style-over-substance campaign full of wit and good one-liners and bereft of policy details. At campaign stops, Kinky has told audiences that his motto is “Leave no cow behind!” And he’s promised to take care of the land and appoint good people, who, presumably, will know more than he does about ag policy. (Kinky’s campaign site is here.) Kinky has been endorsed by former Democratic ag commissioner Jim Hightower.

And Kinky does have the electibility argument going for him. With his minor celebrity status and high name ID, Kinky would be an interesting match-up for Republican incumbent Todd Staples in the general election.

Gilbert was the Democratic nominee for ag commish in 2006 and lost handily to Staples (55-42), though he did break 40 percent, which few Democratic statewide candidates did that year.

The race has gotten personal at times, especially on Twitter. Gilbert has ragged on Kinky for not knowing anything about the ag department. This was a typical entry on Gilbert’s Twitter feed, after Kinky gave a radio interview full of promises outside the normal purview of the ag office: “We’re beginning to wonder if @thekinky thinks the Ag Commissioner is the emperor of Texas?!”

Kinky wrote on Twitter that, “Donate today, and show Hank that money can’t buy the people of Texas!” That was a reference to allegations that Farouk Shami gave Gilbert $150,000 not long after Gilbert dropped out of the governor’s race and endorsed Shami.

I’ll be at Kinky’s election party at an East Austin Mexican restaurant tonight and will post about the goings on. Gilbert will hold his event in Tyler. (I want you to know, dear reader, that I begged and begged my editors to let me drive to Tyler to cover Hank Gilbert’s election shindig, but they turned me down.)

I’ll be updating this post in an hour or so when early-voting returns come in.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.