Jim Hightower

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American journalist Jim Hightower was born on this day, 11 Jan, in 1943.

Coming from a working-class background, Hightower, an accomplished syndicated columnist, progressive political activist and author, was born in Denison, located in north Texas.

During his college years, Hightower worked as an assistant general manager of the Denton Chamber of Commerce. A University of North Texas alumnus, where Hightower served as the student body president, he successfully graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in government. His academic career did not end there. For his graduate program, Hightower would later graduate from New York’s Columbia University with a degree in international affairs.

During the late 1960s, Hightower could be seen working in Washington D.C as the legislative aide to the then U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough. Yarborough, a Texas Democratic politician, served in the United States Senate from 1957 to 1971.

After working with Yarborough, in 1976, Hightower went onto manage former Senator Fred R. Harris’ Democratic presidential nomination campaign.

Harris, a former Democratic United States Senator from Oklahoma, was unsuccessful in his bid for the Democratic nomination. After this disappointment, while Harris re-entered academia and became a professor at the University of New Mexico, Hightower returned to Texas.

After returning to Texas, Hightower became the editor-n-chief of the north Texas based magazine “The Texas Observer.”

Not long after taking up the position of editor-n-chief of “The Texas Observer,” Hightower became interested in running for public office. For his first attempt at acquiring an elected public service position, Hightower sought the Democratic nomination for the Texas Railroad Commission.

Even though the name of the commission indicates it has regulatory power over the railroads, the Texas Railroad Commission is responsible for regulating oil and natural gas.

Unfortunately for Hightower, his first attempt to enter public office was unsuccessful. This disappointment did not sway the UNT alumnus for pushing forwards with other attempts at contributing to society for the greater good.

In the early 1980s, Hightower sought and was successfully elected agricultural commissioner. If you were around in the early 1980s, you might recall Hightower unseated fellow Democrat Reagan V. Brown. Brown, having been elected commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture in 1977, came under significant criticism of his handling of fruit coming into Texas from California. He had ha the fruit quarantined. Hightower, without sugar-coating the intent of the language used, accused Brown of deliberately manufacturing the so-called fire ant crisis to win support from voters and retain his position as agricultural commissioner.

Holding the position for eight years, Hightower was unseated in 1990 by the Democrat-turned-Republican Rick Perry, later the governor of Texas. Perry is now, oddly, the United States Secretary of Energy, the department he was unable to name during his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

In advocating organic production, Hightower aggressively promoted the planting of alternative crops and direct marketing by small hold farmers. The success of Hightower’s tenure as agricultural commissioner was overshadowed by the conviction of three of his aides, Mike Moeller, Pete McRae and Billie Quicksall. Moeller, McRae and Quicksall were all indicted and convicted on bribery charges relating to the agricultural commissioner’s fundraising activities.

Even though Hightower was not involved in what Moeller, McRae and Quicksall had done, the behaviour of these aides impacted significantly to how the electorate perceived the incumbent agricultural commissioner, causing his defeat by Perry.

During the 1992 Democratic nominations election, Hightower throw his support behind the candidacy of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin. Harkin, a United States Senator for the state of Iowa from 1985 to 2015, was a prominent frontrunner in the nominations process for the presidential candidacy. Despite being favoured for the candidacy, Harkin dropped out in support of the eventual winner Bill Clinton.

Soon after Clinton was elected to the presidency of these United States, Hightower became an outspoken critic of the president. Clinton had apparently accepted corporate soft money contributions, something Hightower had vocally criticised the president for. Further, Clinton’s refusal to crackdown on so-called corporate welfare was a sticky issue.

After the heavily disputed outcoming of the 2000 presidential election, Hightower voiced the opinion then Vice President Al Gore had self-sabotaged the loss of his home state of Tennessee.  From the way in which Hightower put it, Ralph Nader did not cause Gore’s defeat to the then Texas Governor George W. Bush.

Despite having not issued a formal endorsement of any candidate during the following presidential election, it has been noted on several occasions Hightower has spoken and written in the affirmative of the then defeated U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich.

Hightower has referenced Kucinich as being a “clear populist with a lifelong history of unambiguous advocacy of populist principles.” The journalist made this comment in the 2004 “The Hightower Lowdown” published article “We the People have driven the Dems to populism.” Unfortunately, the article has since been made unavailable.

Kucinich, a former U.S. Representative from the state of Ohio, served in the United States House of Representatives from 1997 to 2013. He sought the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency of these United States two times, in 2004 and 2008.

Since the early 1990s, under the name of Hightower Radio, Hightower can be heard on over 130 affiliate radio stations in a daily self-produced two-minute commentary. Further to his two-minute commentaries, Hightower hosts a two radio talk shows, the first broadcast at midday on the America Radio Network and the second is broadcast at the weekend on the American Broadcasting Company radio network.

Carried by over seventy-five independent weekly newspapers and various other publications, Hightower can currently be found writing as a nationally syndicated columnist. Further, he also writes for “The Progressive Populist.”

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Shain E. Thomas, a contributor to the Handbook of Texas Online, is a University of North Texas graduate student majoring in Library Information Science.