Thursday, August 19, 2004


As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Aug. 18, 2004

Populist agitator, author and radio personality Jim Hightower backed Ralph Nader for president four years ago. But on Wednesday he told a Santa Fe audience that he's supporting Democrat John Kerry this year.

"Ralph Nader is a longtime personal friend of mine," Hightower said. "I love the man. But I do not support him for president."

Referring to the Bush administration, Hightower said, "These people are not only nuts, they're dangerous. We've got to unite and get him out."

Hightower, wearing his trademark straw cowboy hat, spoke before about 200 people at a luncheon at the Eldorado Hotel. The event was sponsored by KSFR, Santa Fe Public Radio.

A former Texas state commissioner of agriculture, Hightower is known for his down-home style. He didn't disappoint his audience Wednesday as he sprinkled his speech with phrases like, "This makes me happier than a hog in a fresh wallow," and wisdom such as "Even a dead fish can go with the flow."

The luncheon doubled as a book-signing for Hightower, who sold and autographed several copies of his latest work, Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush.

Referring to himself as "an itinerant book hustler," Hightower said his 57-city book tour is designed to "spread the populist gospel. I want to raise some issues, raise some hope and raise some hell along the way."

Said Hightower, "You can fight the gods and still have fun."

Despite his decision not to support Nader this year, Hightower was critical of efforts by some Democrats to curtail Nader's campaign.Democrats in several states have challenged the Nader organization's attempts to get a place on the ballot.

In New Mexico, Democrats have been vocal in pointing out that the Nader campaign hired a Republican-owned organization to gather petition signatures. Nader must have more than 14,000 signatures by Sept. 7 to get on the ballot in New Mexico.

"Efforts by Democrats - some Democrats - to assail the Nader campaign are destructive," Hightower said. "Don't worry about Ralph. Push ahead."

Even though Hightower wants Kerry to win in November, he said "Beating Bush is a progressive victory. It's an essential step, but it just gets us back to square one. We're going to have to be in the face of the Kerry Edwards administration. Our fight is not for Kerry. Our fight is to take back this nation."

He described Kerry as "the lesser of two elites." But he added, "Franklin Roosevelt was an elite. It's certainly possible to rise above your class.

"Kerry will only be as good as we make him," Hightower said. "We'll cheer at his inauguration, but the next day we'll be across the street at LaFayette Park saying, 'Where's that health care for everyone?' "

Hightower said it's up to citizens to take action in their own communities and not wait for leaders to do it for them.

"It's no longer enough to be progressive. We've got to be aggressive," he said. "The powers that be are regressive. They're stealing faster than a hog eats supper."

In his travels, Hightower said, "I see a very different America than the one they show you in the media. People are not cowering in fear, not marching in lockstep with the commander in chief and not rolling over for corporate interests."

He praised Santa Fe for being one of several cities to pass its own Living Wage Ordinance instead of waiting for the federal government to raise the minimum wage by $1.

He also praised communities that have "stood up to Wal-Mart" by thwarting the giant discount store's plans for new stores.

"People are asking the right question - 'Whose town is it?' " Hightower said.

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