As the sun rose in Texas after this Tuesday’s primary, the biggest race of the political season really began to get underway, as independent candidate for Governor Kinky Friedman and newly independent state comptroller Carole Strayhorn begin their two-month mad dash to collect 45,000 verifiable signatures of registered Texas voters to get them on the ballot this fall.

Kinky Friedman’s quixotic campaign is beginning to turn into a populist Lone Star crusade, with bumper stickers sprouting up around the state which read, “Kinky for Governor: Why the Hell Not.”

The recently retired mystery novelist and former lead singer of the Texas Jewboys (known for such defiantly anti-PC ballads such as “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews like Jesus anymore”) comes to the race a full fledged local icon, equal parts Will Rogers and Willie Nelson. His campaign has been up and running for the better part of a year under the tutelage of former independent Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura’s campaign manager, Dean Barkley. They have 3,000 precinct captains and 30,000 volunteers signed up on the campaign website – www.kinkyfriedman.com.

At first glance this campaign might look like a joke, but beneath the surface something serious is happening. Texas hasn’t elected an independent governor since their iconic first governor, Sam Houston. Now in 2006, there are not one but two credible candidates running for governor as an independent.

There is an anger and alienation brewing against both parties in the Texas electorate -- they are frustrated by the excesses of the Republican establishment, but can’t bring themselves to align with the Democrats because they’re allergic to the lack of common sense they see on the liberal left.

This mirrors a national trend: Across the nation, in states that register voters by party there has been an average 300 percent increase in the number of independent, or non-affiliated, voters since Texan Ross Perot’s independent run for the presidency in 1992.

“There are very few Republicans and Democrats left in Texas,” Kinky says from his ranch in the Hill Country outside of Austin, where five dogs run around and Fox News plays on the TV in the background (not a plug, just a fact). “I think there are just people who are disgusted with politicians; people who are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”

He describes the two-parties as “the Crips and the Bloods, playing little insider games with each other, like neighborhood bullies…. The only time they got off their asses is to attack each other. And they’ll do it forever. They’ll never stop until there’s an alternative available.”

Kinky’s plan is to be that alternative, and he’s already assembled a small army to get that message out. Last year, the buzz began from fans and folks looking for an honest and independent candidate to shake up the system. One young college age volunteer from Maine – inspired in part by the successful two-term Independent governorship of Angus King in the 1990s – took a semester off school and drove down to Texas to take part in the crusade.

But Kinky has a strategy beyond sheer enthusiasm, based in the 71 percent of registered Texas voters who stayed home during the last gubernatorial election where incumbent Rick Perry was elected, even after a record $100 million dollars in advertising was spent – because – in Kinky’s eyes, “We thought the choice was plastic or paper.”

To say that Kinky Friedman represents challenge to typical politicians is an understatement.

“Politics is the only field of endeavor in which the more experience you have, the worse you get,” he says. “I’d like to have someone elected who can ride, shoot straight and tell the truth. Someone who’s not a Jack Abramoff-Tom Delay type but who is a Mark Twain-Will Rogers type – a truth-teller.”

“The parties tell these people what to think,” Kinky continues. “You won’t find a Democrat anywhere in the nation who will campaign for prayer in school. The fact that God wasn’t there in Columbine is why it happened. It wasn’t the NRA’s fault. The only time those kids prayed [in school] is just before they died…[But] When I say that I support gay marriages and prayer in school, they say this guy has got to be telling the truth. Instead of using gay marriage to take our eye off the ball; how about talking about real issues, like the border and education.”

The country maverick who would be governor is not shy about listing the failures of the current state status quo.

“We are number one in executions, toll roads and property taxes,” he says. “We’re at the very bottom – 50th in education and 50th in care of the elderly. One in four kids does not have health insurance. As Dr. Phil would say, ‘How’s that working for you?’”

Unlike many of today’s politicians, he explains how he would pay for his proposals to cut property taxes while increasing funding to education and border security -- through a combination of selling the naming rights to state sports facilities and legalized gambling. This is not a man who stands on ceremony or respects the sacred cows of conventional politics.

That’s precisely why his campaign is attracting widespread interest both in and outside of Texas. Kinky Freidman is the perfect antidote to today’s politics of polarization, pandering to special interests and the predictable spin cycle.

And if Texans declare independence from politics as usual over the next two-months during the petition drive and then again in the fall, they could create a heartening symbol in the Lone Star State for U.S. politics in 2006 – a new inspiration to the rising tide of independent voters nationwide.

John P. Avlon is a columnist and associate editor for the New York Sun, former chief speechwriter for Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, and author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics (Random House, 2004). For more about John Avlon, visit his web site, Independent Nation.org