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September 11, 2006

Jim Hightower Coming to Town

This Thursday evening, writer, radio commenter and activist Jim Hightower will be speaking at Seattle’s Town Hall at 7:00 about how we build political power for sustainability in Washington State.  The talk is called, “On Common Ground: Innovations in Energy and Agriculture and a New Civic Awakening”.   Tickets are only $10 to hear one of the country’s most entertaining and informative speakers.

Jim Hightower is a populist through and through.  For him, progressive issues come back to building political power.  So, if anyone can take a topic that most of us don’t fully understand and make it entertaining and clear and obviously critical to our future, it is Jim Hightower. 

The event is hosted by the Back to the Roots program of Institute for Washington's Future in collaboration with Washblog and us, Evergreen Politics, and features a short performance by Seattle Peace Chorus.  There are about a dozen wonderful sponsors, including Climate Solutions, The Washington Farmers’ Union, and Progressive Government.  And he will sign some of his books afterwards.

First some background on Hightower for those of you who don’t know much about this national treasure.  As I review his history, I realize that he has been a canary in the coalmine.  As a result of his fearlessness about speaking out, he has been targeted early by the same forces that the rest of the country gets a decade or so later. 

Hightower Runs Into the Rove/Bush Meatgrinder

In the book, “Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential”, James Moore and Wayne Slater tell the story of how Democrat Jim Hightower became one of Karl Rove’s first targets in his plan to change the face of Texas politics. In 1982 every statewide office in Texas was held by Democrats.  By 2000 every statewide office was held by Republicans.  Rove had no scruples in how he accomplished that.

The Bushes didn’t have much use for Jim Hightower.  He had been getting national attention as a populist orator.  At the Democratic National Convention in 1988, Hightower gave the keynote talk where he quipped, “George Bush is the kind of guy who wakes up on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”

Hightower was running for reelection for Agriculture Commissioner in 1990, an important office in Texas. As Agriculture Commissioner, Hightower 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. On the policy front, Hightower was a vocal critic of federal farm policies under the Reagan/Bush administration and had been advocating stricter pesticide regulations and hormone-free beef. 

Rick Perry, a West Texas rancher, switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican to run against Hightower and became a client of Rove’s.  Karl Rove had earlier befriended an FBI agent who had already investigated other Texas Democratic officeholders who were in Rove’s way.  This time, someone gave detailed information from an audit of Hightower’s Department of Agriculture to the FBI and then someone began feeding that information to the press.  Rove gave tips to reporters about what questions to ask and told them about subpoenas from the FBI that were about to be served. The timing, coming right before the election, was Perry’s only chance of beating the popular Hightower.  No charges were ever filed and the story disappeared from state newspapers just before the election but the questions caused Hightower to lose to Republican Rick Perry.

“Nixonian dirty tricks,” Hightower charged.  “They’ve caught us with our pants up.”

Hightower Becomes an Early Casualty of Disney/ABC

A diarist over at DailyKos, wmtriallawyer, recently told a story of working for Hightower in 1995, helping him edit and produce a three minute recorded radio commentary which was carried weekends on ABC Radio Networks. That was the summer that Disney bought ABC for $19 billion, creating the largest media company in the world.

Hightower spoke frequently against media conglomorates and the consolidation of media power.  He decided that he had to deal with the issue of becoming part of the Disney family on the show.

Hightower started right off, “Looks like I'm working for a mouse now”.  He went on to criticize ABC and Disney for the media power grab and to criticize the media industry for their misuse of the public airwaves.  Standard Hightower and one of the traits that made him the number three radio show in the country and got him carried on 150 radio stations across the country. 

A few weeks later ABC canceled the show. 

The diarist goes on to say, “I consider him a friend, and a personal hero of mine, because Hightower GETS it.  He GETS messaging.  And he GETS politics.”

There’s so much more to say about Jim Hightower but best that you come see him yourself.  Click here for tickets or just show up at the door.  7:00 at Town Hall, 8th & Seneca, Seattle.  This Thursday, Sept. 14th. 

Noemie, our incredible chief organizer for this event, has written more on Hightower at Democratic Underground.

Posted by Lynn Allen on September 11, 2006 at 10:30 AM in National and International Politics, Washington Culture | Permalink


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