By David Hill - 09/20/06 12:00 AM EDT
If you’ve been paying much attention to the media lately, you may have heard this ad for a Costa Rican gambling site: “Hi, I’m Jesse Ventura and ‘telling-it-like-it-is’ is why people trusted me enough to be governor of Minnesota. And now, I’m telling you BetUS.com is the most trusted sports book in the world.”
This must be a special embarrassment for Bill Hillsman, the Minnesota adman that vaulted Ventura into the governor’s office that Ventura now exploits for financial gain. Over time, Hillsman has expanded his vision beyond Minnesota, hanging out now with Arianna Huffington and Warren Beatty on the Left Coast while promoting Ralph Nader, Air America, and Ned Lamont back East. Most recently, Hillsman and his North Woods Advertising have turned their gaze southward to Kinky Friedman’s campaign for governor of Texas.
The Kinkster appears to be another Ventura in the making. Like Ventura, Friedman has a few interesting ideas, but much of his agenda borders on the obscure or bizarre. Kinky would probably also succumb to burnout before completing a single term. And following in Jesse’s footsteps, we could expect a retired Gov. Friedman to be pimping something inappropriate.
Rather than wait for all this to happen, perhaps it’s time to cast a spotlight on Hillsman’s plot to screw up Texas.
As a pollster, I am most likely not worthy to critique Hillsman’s Lone Star State campaign. At least, Mr. Hillsman probably feels that way. In his 2004 book, “Run the Other Way,” Hillsman lambastes what he calls Election Industry, Inc., the political consulting trade that he describes as “an inside-the-Beltway collective of toadies, fakes, crooks, character assassins, racketeers, party apologists, false scientists, phony experts, self-aggrandizers, and backstabbers (often embodied in the same person).” In the fifth chapter, entitled “The Unbearable Dumbness of Polling,” Hillsman writes: “Of all the Election Industry, Inc. types who insinuate themselves into political campaigns, pollsters are the worst.”
As one of the worst toadies, it appears to me that Friedman’s campaign is a cookie-cutter remake of prior Hillsman campaigns. Especially tacky are the Kinky Friedman “talking action figures” sold in the campaign store for $29.95. This mimics figurines sold by the Ventura campaign in 1998. As Ventura was a “rassler” (as we say it in Texas), the action figures made sense. But Kinky is no athlete, so what’s with the dolls? I get the recorded wisecracks and black leather attire, but the rest of the package seems warmed over.
Hillsman’s current TV commercial, The Good Shepherd, casts Kinky in the role of Jesus Christ as it compresses into a 30-second spot a parable from the 10th chapter of John. The rationale for this ad likely grows out of Hillsman’s first campaign. Late in Paul Wellstone’s 1990 clash with Senator Rudy Boschwitz, the incumbent’s campaign ran an ad suggesting that the challenger was not a good Jew, not sufficiently religious. While Hillsman thinks the attack backfired in progressive Minnesota, his Midwestern bias probably makes him fear anew anti-Semitism in Texas. So Kinky’s ad begins: “I heard an old-time preacher read from the book of John the other day …” an awkward and unconvincing effort to make Kinky nearly Pentecostal. Bill, we’re not that dumb or prejudiced here in Texas.
Hillsman arrogantly states in his 2004 book: “One of the things that makes me fairly unique … is that I believe in truth in advertising.” Oh really? Then start telling the truth about Kinky. He may be a good man, but he’s no preacher.
The real truth may be that Hillsman, Ned Lamont’s adman, is using Kinky to drain votes from Republicans Rick Perry and Carole Strayhorn to benefit the Democrat Chris Bell. It’s the kind of Jujitsu move that Hillsman has made his trademark.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.