Jim Hightower, like Dwight Eisenhower, was born in the small town of Denison, Texas along the Oklahoma border. He has spent most of his life trying to energize the Democratic Party, hoping that it will “come to its senses and return to its populist roots.” In his words: “Some say we need a third party. I wish we had a second one.”
At the University of North Texas, Hightower served as a freshman class senator, sophomore class president, and student body president. After graduating with a degree in government, he headed to Washington D.C., where he studied law and tried a few other jobs before settling down as legislative aide to Texas senator Ralph Yarborough. While still in Washington, he co-founded the Agribusiness Accountability Project and also became national coordinator for the 1976 presidential campaign of Senator Fred Harris.
Back in Texas, Hightower became editor of the biweekly Texas Observer, then was elected to two terms as state Agriculture Commissioner (1983-1991). Now he operates as a modern-day political Johnny Appleseed, constantly on the road speaking to grassroots America. Combining the hard-working spirit of traditional populists like Robert La Follette with a grasp of modern media, he spends his days fighting “brute force and old-fashioned scheming among the power elites.”
Hightower publishes a monthly newsletter, broadcasts daily radio commentaries, has hosted his own talk radio show, gives more than 100 speeches a year and travels with his Rolling Thunder Chautauqua Tours, a combination of country fair fun and popular activism. His books include Thieves in High Places, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, and There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos.
To him “agitator” is not a negative word. “Being an agitator is what America is all about,” Hightower says. “If it was not for the agitators of circa 1776, we’d all be wearing powdered wigs and still be singing God Save the Queen.” An agitator, he adds, “is the center post in the washing machine that gets the dirt out.”