Jun 7, 2022
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James Allen Hightower (born January 11, 1943) is an American syndicated columnist, progressive political activist, and author. From 1983 to 1991 he served as the elected commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture. He publishes a monthly newsletter that is notable for its in-depth investigative reporting, The Hightower Lowdown.
Born in Denison in Grayson County in north Texas, Hightower comes 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 U.S. State Department. He received a Bachelor of Arts in government from the University of North Texas in Denton, where he served as student body president. He later did graduate work at Columbia University in New York City in international affairs.In the late 1960s, he worked in Washington, D.C., as legislative aide to U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough. In 1970, Hightower co-founded and worked at the Agribusiness Accountability Project in Washington, D.C., which resulted in two of his early books. After managing the presidential campaign of former Senator Fred R. Harris of Oklahoma in 1976, he returned to Texas to become the editor of the magazine The Texas Observer. His first attempt at public office was an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and natural gas industries, rather than the railroads the name of the commission would seem to indicate.In 1982, Hightower was elected Agriculture Commissioner, having unseated fellow Democrat Reagan V. Brown, who had ordered a quarantine of fruit coming into Texas from California. He served as agriculture commissioner until he was unseated in 1990 by the Democrat-turned-Republican Rick Perry, later the governor of Texas. His tenure was noted for fostering organic production, alternative crops, direct marketing by small farmers, and strong gross materials regulations. During that time, he also became a leading national spokesman for Democrats and endorsed Jesse Jackson for president in 1988. Three of Hightower’s aides at the Agriculture Commission, Mike Moeller, Pete McRae, and Billie Quicksall, were convicted on bribery charges related to procuring contributions to Hightower’s reelection campaign from seed dealers who were subject to the department’s oversight. While Hightower was not involved in the plot, it contributed to his defeat by Perry.During the 1992 presidential election, he supported the candidacy of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. After Harkin left the race, Hightower supported Jerry Brown, and cast his superdelegate vote for Governor Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.Soon after Clinton was elected, Hightower became a critic of the president. He criticized Clinton for having accepted corporate soft money contributions, his support of NAFTA, his health care plan, and his refusal to crack down on “corporate welfare”, as well as what Hightower viewed as inadequate efforts at fighting 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 the 2000 election, Hightower voiced the opinion that it was Vice President Al Gore himself, who lost his home state of Tennessee, and not Ralph Nader, who caused Gore’s defeat at the hands of Governor George W. Bush of Texas. Although he issued no endorsement of any candidate during the 2004 presidential primaries, he spoke and wrote approvingly of since defeated U.S. Representative 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 he’s 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 Doris “Granny D” Haddock, a friend and fellow activist who was running as a Democrat against incumbent Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.Since 1993, Hightower has produced Hightower Radio, a daily two-minute commentary carried by over 130 affiliates. He also hosted a weekend talk show on the American Broadcasting Company radio network and a weekday midday talk show on the United Broadcasting Network (later called America Radio Network). Hightower’s Chit & Chat aired in thirty-eight markets around the United States. Floyd Domino was his music director and co-host. Susan DeMarco was also a co-host of the program and continues to work with him.