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By MICHAEL GRACZY
With political soul mate Jesse Ventura in tow, Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman is telling college audiences that he has no reason to apologize for his race-related remarks.
"Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a racist," Friedman said Monday at the University of Texas at San Antonio. "Far from it."
Last week, the Texas NAACP president and a black legislator criticized Friedman for a joke he told in a 1980 comedy club appearance in which he used the n-word about blacks. He also has come under fire for a race-related remark he made in a television interview last year and for other comments about Hurricane Katrina evacuees and ethnic groups.
"Humor is the weapon I use, humor to attack bigotry," said Friedman, who with Ventura is making a campaign swing this week through several Texas colleges and universities.
Ventura, whose surprising 1998 victory as a third-party candidate in the Minnesota governor’s race is serving as a model for Friedman’s effort, was welcomed to Texas on Monday by an attack from incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign. In a statement, Perry’s campaign cited remarks in a 1999 Playboy Magazine interview in which Ventura was said to have called organized religion "a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers."
Dean Barkley, who directed Ventura’s successful campaign and is serving in the same capacity with Friedman, said the attacks showed the Perry campaign was "getting pretty desperate."
In San Antonio on Monday, Friedman and Ventura drew enthusiastic crowds, filling a 350-seat campus auditorium to standing room, leaving several hundred others unable to get in.
Friedman talked to the crowd about a crime spike in Houston blamed in part on the Katrina refugees, but stayed away from his previous reference to them as "thugs and crackheads," for which he was criticized as being racially offensive.
"They say Kinky is a racist because I talked about the evacuees," he said. "Well, I’m smart, folks. I know that 250,000 evacuees are not committing these crimes. It’s a small number."
In the evening, Friedman and Ventura signed campaign buttons, signs and photos.
"I like what he’s talking about," said Marisol Peralez, 22, who is studying to be a special education teacher. She said the criticisms of Friedman’s 1980 remarks didn’t bother her.
"I think too much is being made of it," she said.
"I’ve seen him in social settings and how he is with people," said Courtney Laurell, 22. "He’s very down to earth."
Besides Perry, Friedman is facing Democrat Chris Bell, independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Libertarian James Werner in the Nov. 7 election.
Ventura, wearing a SEAL Team cap and his long beard in a single braid, challenged students to "throw a monkey wrench into the machine" by voting.
"The machine doesn’t believe that you vote," the former pro wrestler said. "You elect an independent and you send a message."
Ventura said he and Friedman didn’t agree on all issues, with immigration among them. Friedman wants 10,000 troops along the border to block illegal immigration. Ventura, who now lives in Baja California, Mexico, said he didn’t want any kind of fence to stem the flow of immigration.
Friedman also acknowledged he and Ventura disagreed on religion, with Friedman advocating school prayer and posting of the Ten Commandments.
"You’ll find as independents, we don’t always agree on every subject, but you’ll find we are in agreement that the Democrat and Republican parties are destroying our country right now," Ventura said. "They’re destroying our political process."
Associated Press writer Kelley Shannon contributed to this report from Austin.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press