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Media Has 'Kinky' Way of Covering Texas Politics

When I was a young journalist in Washington many years ago, it struck me that the national media covered my home state of Texas like it was a foreign country.

The media treated Texas like it was some erratic third-world nation, and as a result, the reporting was often wrong.

Not much has changed in the past 40 years.

The most recent example is the way the national media (primarily network television) has covered the campaign of Independent candidate for governor, Kinky Friedman.

Much of the national press is treating Kinky as the second coming of Jesse Ventura, the former professional wrestler who was elected governor of Minnesota as an Independent a few years ago.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. All polls in Texas have consistently shown Kinky running fourth in a four-person race. Let me say that again—Kinky is running fourth of four. What’s more, the national media has completely ignored the other Independent candidate, State Comptroller Carol Keeton Strayhorn, who actually has an outside chance of winning the race.

Let me be clear from the outset: I have nothing against Kinky. We first met a long time ago when, as a teenager, I attended a late summer session at Camp Echo Hill, the camp in Kerrville, Texas, run by Kinky’s parents. Kinky back then was known as Richard and didn’t make much of an impression.

Over the years I have followed his career as an off-beat country musician, writer and political gladfly. His singing group Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys recorded, among other songs, “They Don’t Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore.”

He is an accomplished writer, authoring a number of mystery stories and a really funny back-of- the-book column for Texas Monthly magazine.

Kinky is just the kind of candidate with whom the national media love to fall in love. He says outrageous things, and he looks like what everyone in the East thinks Texans look like.

For the record, the other candidates in the race are the incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry, and the Democratic nominee, former Rep. Chris Bell. Perry is the favorite but Strayhorn, who was elected comptroller as a Republican, is running an aggressive campaign with financial backing from some leading trial lawyers. She also is courting some parts of organized labor and is seeking support among minority officeholders.

The conventional wisdom is that Srayhorn and Bell will split the anti-Perry vote (he is not uniformly liked even among Republicans) and that Perry will win with a plurality of the vote (there is no majority requirement and thus no run-off in a general election). If Perry falters, either Strayhorn or Bell could sneak across the line in first place.

So what’s the big deal about Kinky? He will get some support from rural voters who are down on everyone currently in government and support from some urban liberals (most of whom live in Austin and are a relatively small part of the total Texas electorate). That may add up to eight percent of the vote. That’s all there is, there ain’t no more.

Kinky is exactly the kind of candidate for whom my 26 year-old daughter-- who is single, socially liberal and has read all his books-- would vote. There is only one problem. She lives in Santa Fe, N.M., and is not registered to vote in Texas. There are a lot of out-of-staters who would vote for Kinky if they only could.

The remarkable thing about the national media’s blind spot about Texas politics is that so many nationally prominent politicians have come from Texas during the last 50 years. During that time, three U.S. presidents have been Texans: Lyndon Johnson, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush ; two U.S. vice presidents have been Texans: Johnson and Bush Sr.; Texans have served as speaker of the U.S. House: Sam Rayburn and Jim Wright; three Texanss have served as majority leader of U.S. House: Wright, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay; one Texan has served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee: Bob Strauss.

Many nationally prominent television journalists have also come from Texas: CBS’s Walter Cronkite (University of Texas), Dan Rather (Houston) and Bob Schieffer (Ft. Worth); ABC’s Sam Donaldson (El Paso) and PBS’s Jim Lehrer (San Antonio and Dallas).

There are a lot of things in politics that don’t make any sense. The fact that the national media could be so wrong on the 2006 Texas Governor’s race is just the latest.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

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