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Once Foes, Now Allies: Chris Bell Endorses Kinky Friedman

Once rivals in the 2006 gubernatorial contest, Chris Bell is now endorsing his former foe, Kinky Friedman, in the Democratic runoff for agriculture commissioner.

Kinky Friedman (l.) and former U.S. Congressman Chris Bell.

With a handshake at a Houston radio station on Friday, Chris Bell let bygones be bygones and lent his support to Kinky Friedman's bid to win the Democratic nomination for agriculture commissioner.

Bell was the Democrats' choice for governor in 2006, an election complicated by the presence of two independent candidates — Friedman and then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. The presence of those two candidates famously kept Gov. Rick Perry under 40 percent in that election but also kept Bell under 30 percent.

Many Democrats afterward wouldn't forgive Friedman for running. They believed that the humorist sapped support from Bell.

Bell and Friedman on Friday disagreed with that assessment. Friedman went on to say that he thought the biggest obstacle to Bell was not him but Strayhorn. He cited polling done by former Houston mayor and former 2010 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White that showed Friedman drew support equally from Democrats and Republicans.

They agreed that Strayhorn drew more Democrats than Friedman and that she, in effect, wrecked both their campaigns.

"That was always my sense that you were sort of an equal-opportunity offender," Bell told Friedman in the joint appearance on KPFT. "I've always thought that Carol Strayhorn's involvement and the fact that she decided when you'll recall she was originally running as a Republican and then realized there was no path to victory there and then decided, 'Oh, now I'm an independent'" was a bigger factor in his loss.

Friedman later laid out an argument for why he thought the Democratic leadership should welcome his presence on the ballot as a complement — and not an obstacle — to Wendy Davis' candidacy for governor.

"If I were a Wendy Davis, I would want to have a Kinky Friedman on the ballot ... on my side only because he's going to draw libertarians and independents over and they're going to hopefully look at the menu. They're going to get the idea, don't vote straight ticket. Take your time. And I think that's the kind of candidate that you would really welcome," Friedman said.

Bell agreed with Friedman's assessment and said that Friedman is running "a serious race" worthy of his support. "I may not agree with every stand that you've taken and on every issue, but you always make it interesting. And I think that's important. Politics needs to be more interesting because it can be pretty darn boring in this day and age. But I'm glad you're in the race, and I'm here to lend my support."

Friedman is competing against Cleburne insurance agent Jim Hogan in the May 27 runoff.

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