Outsider Democrats Friedman & Hogan Vie for Agriculture Commissioner

May 12, 2014

Texas Democrats have had trouble over the last several years filling out the statewide ballot with well-known candidates.

This month’s runoff for the party’s nomination for Agriculture Commissioner is a prime example: Texas comedian, author, musician and former independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman faces off against Cleburn farmer Jim Hogan.

To be fair, so you can't say people don't know who Kinky Friedman is. His name ID and quirky gubernatorial campaign gave him 12 percent of the vote in 2006. But he's often considered as someone who's not serious about running for office.

"Probably nothing in this world is a serious as a comedian when he's telling the truth," Friedman tells KUT. "And that's what I endeavor to do."

That response is a  nice one-liner from a campaign  full of them – explaining, perhaps, why he was once again shunned by the party establishment in his second attempt to win the Democratic Agriculture Commissioner nomination.

That shunning has eased a little since Friedman came in a close second to Jim Hogan in the March primary. Hogan, a farmer and part-time insurance salesman, wasn't the establishment pick either.

"I said for whatever reason, whether it's God's lead or whatever …  if Mr. Perry doesn't run for Governor and Todd Staples doesn't run for Ag Commissioner, you know, I'm gonna consider throwing my hat in the ring," Hogan says.

Hogan spoke to KUT from his official campaign office – which consists of a cell phone and his truck. He says Democratic Party leaders actually told him not to run, though at the time he was the only candidate ready to jump in the race. Even though he had no political experience at all, Hogan says he did plenty of research on the ag commissioner's duties to make sure he wasn't getting in over his head.

"I wanted to make sure that I could do the job," he says. "After studying it, no sweat. Was I the best candidate? I considered myself an excellent candidate," he says. And without a staff, a website, or campaign donations, Hogan still took first place in the primary, easily beating establishment candidate Hugh Fitzsimons.

Heading into the runoff, Friedman has been making headlines pushing a pro-pot and hemp message.

"Hemp requires half the water that cotton does, while providing two and a half times the fiber. All with zero pesticides needed for hemp," he says. "Now if you were to pitch that as a pilot project or a grant to a cotton farmer, they would take it."

As for legalized marijuana, Friedman says based on how well tax collections are going in Colorado, legalization would be a cash cow in Texas.

Hogan doesn't have any campaign promises or grand ideas that he'd work towards if elected. But as ag commissioner, he says he'd ensure the agency is spending its money the right way and would reach out to communities and farmers across the state.

"In other words, work with people," he says. "People are searching for the problem right now, some of them are getting their own solutions. But work with people. That's what the job is, to help people. It's a service. Now that's the biggest platform you can have."

Neither of these outsiders has been tabbed as the party favorite heading into the May 27 runoff. But Friedman did pick up an endorsement from former Democratic gubernatorial nominee (and 2006 opponent) Chris Bell.

Early voting starts May 19. Runoff election day is May 27.