On the scene.
When Kinky Friedman finally arrived close to 10 p.m. on Feb. 5 at the “Barn Bash” celebrating the 25th anniversary of Galveston’s revived Mardi Gras and parade (for which the Kinkster would serve the next day as grand marshal), he didn’t, and frankly couldn’t, make much of an impression on the 1,100 revelers. Many in the shoulder-to-shoulder crush had been partying hard since the barn doors opened at 7 p.m. (For $20, unlimited beer and wine.) And they had other matters on their minds than the March 2 Democratic primary in which Kinky is running for agriculture commissioner against rival Democrat Hank Gilbert.
Almost everyone expressed some admiration for Kinky, but most had missed the news in mid-December that Friedman was abandoning his second run for governor in favor of the more obscure post of agriculture commissioner. (Four years ago, running for governor as an independent, Friedman attracted more national-media coverage than the rest of the candidates combined. He received 12 percent of the vote.) “Agriculture commissioner? Get outta town,” said Christine Haas, a 45-year-old Galveston hairdresser. Aircraft mechanic James J. (Speedy) Dodranich, 58, describes himself as “one of those Tea Party idiots who believes this country needs to be run by the people and not the politicians.” He said of Friedman: “I wish he’d stuck with running for governor, but Kinky’s gotta do what Kinky has to do. I’d vote for him for President if he’d run.”
Minutes after Friedman’s arrival, the blaring band at the back of the barn surrendered the stage, and the candidate spoke—or tried to. The din from the crowd drowned out his words for all but maybe the 50 people closest to the stage: “Hi, I’m Kinky Friedman,” he said. “Vote for me for agriculture commissioner: No cow left behind! My platform is simple: Protect the land. Take care of the animals. Listen to the people.”
With that, Friedman and his entourage stepped out the barn’s back door and into the adjacent parking lot of the Artillery Club, Galveston’s most exclusive dining venue. The club’s manager spotted Friedman and invited him and his campaign manager in for a complimentary meal (rack of lamb, baked oysters, crab cakes). They sat in a private dining room, doubtlessly because Friedman was puffing away on his iconic Cuban cigar (“I’m not supporting their economy, I’m burning their fields”) in blatant violation of Galveston’s tough new anti-smoking ordinance. But those fumes didn’t stop a procession of what Friedman calculated were “more than 100” of Galveston’s elite from coming in while he held court.
Kinky’s routine may not have changed much since 2006, but his run for ag commissioner isn’t generating the same interest. During Saturday’s parade in Galveston, Friedman rode in a car with his campaign signs stuck to both rear doors. But parade organizers had discreetly placed blue masking tape over the phrase “for Agriculture Commissioner,” so the sign on the grand marshal’s ride read only “Kinky Friedman.”
Sandra Rodriguez’s Second Take
In 2008, Sandra Rodriguez came within 1,000 votes of winning the state representative race in western Hidalgo County. Her campaign against Democratic incumbent state Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores was expensive and grueling. Flores had kept an iron-fisted hold on the border communities in District 36 for 13 years. At a low point in the campaign, the two candidates had to be separated by sheriff’s deputies during a heated argument outside a county precinct office.
Rodriguez, 50, a former probation officer and high school teacher, had little appetite for a rematch with Flores. In late July 2009, she decided to sit out the next election cycle. That decision didn’t last long. Flores was indicted in July for allegedly hiding more than $847,000 in income and assets from state regulators. Flores also had lost his political pull at the Capitol with the ouster of former House Speaker Tom Craddick. In August, Flores announced he wouldn’t run again, and Rodriguez jumped back in.
Though Flores has left the race, Rodriguez hasn’t broken free of her old rival. She will face Flores’ anointed successor—Sergio Muñoz Jr.—in the March Democratic primary. Muñoz, a 27-year-old lawyer, announced his candidacy the day after Flores called it quits. Political insiders in Hidalgo County think that Flores is supporting Muñoz’s candidacy.
The race has been the most costly and talked-about in Hidalgo County this election year. The candidates have spent a combined $296,000. Rodriguez raised $156,000. Muñoz brought in $77,000 and received a $125,000 loan from his father.
Rodriguez has allies with deep political roots in the district. She is the wife of a former state district judge. Billy Leo, former mayor of La Joya, a political kingmaker in western Hidalgo County, and a Flores foe, supports her. Leo’s daughter, Lita, is Rodriguez’s campaign manager. Muñoz, meanwhile, has endorsements from the mayors of Mission and Pharr, two traditional allies of Flores.
Sometimes you just can’t shake an old foe.
—Melissa del Bosque
A GOP Convert Stirs Up the Tea Party
When state Rep. Chuck Hopson, a conservative Democrat from rural East Texas, switched to the Republican Party in November, some Democrats saw it as more than a political setback.
“I feel betrayed by his lack of conviction,” Phillip Martin, a former Hopson legislative aide, wrote on the liberal Burnt Orange Report blog.
Distaste at Hopson’s party-hopping wasn’t confined to former allies. Six hours after his announcement he had a serious opponent in the Republican primary. Michael Banks, a 62-year-old Jacksonville dentist, is challenging Hopson from the tea-party right with a grassroots campaign.
Banks describes his opponent as a liberal who switched parties because “his polls showed him that he couldn’t win in 2010 as a Democrat.”
In 2008, Hopson defeated his Republican opponent by 114 votes in a region that tilts Republican. McCain walloped Obama with 71 percent of the vote in a district that includes Jacksonville, Rusk and Crockett.
Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Gov. Rick Perry have endorsed Hopson. At the end of 2009, Hopson reported raising $176,000; Banks had collected $5,700 and loaned his campaign nearly $80,000.
Nonetheless, Banks says Hopson is “shaking in his boots.” Banks—a hunter, fisherman, and kayaker—has led a high-profile fight to preserve 25,000 acres of rare hardwood forest along the Neches River where powerful water interests in Dallas want to build a reservoir.
It’s not the most orthodox selling point for a conservative politician, but Banks contends that it has put him in touch with thousands of voters. He takes partial credit for forcing Hopson to take a stronger stand against the reservoir.
Could his advocacy open him up to charges of being a tree-hugger?
“They tried to briefly, but the people in East Texas and the district know better,” Banks says.
The Republican nominee will face Democrat Richard Hackney, CEO of a pharmaceutical consulting company and Cherokee County native, in November.
Ted and Betty Dotts
Lubbock is not gay-friendly. A few years ago, when some straight high school kids tried to support some gay kids by forming a Gay-Straight Alliance, the Lubbock Independent School District banned it. A school board member explained, “If I let something in like y’all, I’d have to let in the Ku Klux Klan.”
The district’s decision violated federal law. However, in Caudillo v. LISD, the judge ruled that “the local school officials and parents are in the best position to determine what subject matter is reasonable.”
“It was terrible. We felt very cut down,” says Betty Dotts, who had called in a lawyer from Lambda Legal in Dallas. Betty and husband Ted, a retired Methodist clergyman, have been fighting for gay rights since 1975, a continuation of their civil rights activism that began in the 1950s. Betty and Ted are also advocates for comprehensive sex education in a school district that teaches “abstinence only.” Faced with high sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy rates, Betty and Ted teach sex-ed in church.
In 1993, a friend asked Betty and Ted to start the first group for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in Lubbock. Betty said she “felt like a huge wave of water was coming over me and I was drowning,(because) I know the people here.” Nevertheless, she scheduled the first meeting.
Betty kept the lights low, and security stood at the door on the church’s second floor. When 50 people showed up and weren’t protesters, she was relieved. But many in the congregation were angry.
“We got some very harsh letters—some from our own Methodist ministers,” Betty says.
The couple also received menacing phone calls. Betty remembers wondering how far the critics would go. But Mary Vines, one of Ted’s former parishioners, says Ted has a way of diffusing resistance. “He would be at home with the Greek philosophers,” she says.
Ted and Betty have now made their home a haven for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youth. Ted meets with a transgendered support group twice weekly. The Dotts show the kids unconditional acceptance; a rare thing in Lubbock.