James Allen "Jim" Hightower (born January 11, 1943) is a well-known populist activist and a former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture.
Born in Denison, Texas, Hightower came from a working class background. He worked his way through college as assistant general manager of the Denton Chamber of Commerce, and later landed a spot as a management trainee for the State Department. He received a B.A. in government from the University of North Texas and later did graduate work at Columbia University in international affairs.
In the late 1960s, he worked in Washington, D.C. as legislative aide to Senator Ralph Yarborough. After managing the presidential campaign of populist former Senator Fred R. Harris of Oklahoma in 1976, he returned to Texas to become the editor of the magazine Texas Observer. His first run for office was for the Democratic nomination for the Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates the oil industry), which he narrowly lost. Hightower was elected Agricultural Commissioner in 1982, serving in that capacity until 1991. His tenure was noted for fostering organic production, alternative crops, direct marketing by small farmers, strong pesticide regulations, and other innovative programs. During that time, he also became a leading national spokesman for populist and progressive Democrats. He was defeated in 1990 by current Republican Rick Perry, a future governor and client of Karl Rove.
During the 1992 presidential election, he supported the candidacy of Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, a fellow populist. After Harkin dropped
out and endorsed Governor Bill Clinton, Hightower, who was critical of Clinton's centrism, cast his superdelegate vote for Governor Jerry
Brown at the Democratic National Convention.
Once Clinton was elected, Hightower soon made a name for himself as one the President's most dogged left-wing critics, slamming Clinton almost daily for his acceptance of corporate soft money contributions, his support of NAFTA, his health care plan, his refusal to crack down on "corporate welfare," and what Hightower viewed as his inadequate stance on ending unemployment and poverty.
In 2000, he joined with talk show host Phil Donahue and actress Susan Sarandon to co-chair the presidential campaign of Ralph Nader. He also appeared at Nader's "super-rallies" and stumped across the country for him.
After the disputed outcome of 2000 election, Hightower voiced the opinion that it was Vice President Al Gore, and not Nader, who was
responsible for Gore's loss to Governor George W. Bush. Although he issued no clear-cut endorsement of any candidate during the 2004
presidential primaries, he spoke and wrote approvingly of Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, calling him a "clear populist with a lifelong
history of unambiguous advocacy of populist principles." Once Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts won the nomination, Hightower endorsed
him and urged fellow progressives to work for his election, saying, "I don't care if John Kerry is a sack of cement, we're going to carry
him to victory." During this election, he also campaigned in support of the U.S. Senate bid of Granny D, a friend and fellow activist who
was running as a Democrat against incumbent Republican Senator Judd Gregg.
Since 1993 he has produced "Hightower Radio," a daily two-minute commentary carried by over 130 affiliates. He is a popular speaker, crisscrossing the country for about 100 speeches a year to a variety of audiences with the goal of organizing grassroots political activism.
Hightower currently writes a nationally-syndicated column carried by 75 independent weeklies and other publications. He also writes a monthly newsletter The Hightower Lowdown, which has more than 125,000 subscribers and is notable for in-depth investigative reporting and an unapologetically partisan tone in criticizing George W. Bush's administration, which he rails against as beholden to corporations and extremist conservative political ideology. He also writes for The Progressive Populist.
There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos (1997; ISBN 0060929499)
If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They'd Have Given Us Candidates (2001; ISBN 0060932090)
Thieves in High Places: They've Stolen Our Country--And It's Time to Take It Back (2003; ISBN 0670031410)
Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush (2004; ISBN 0670033545)