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Hightower's Hell-Raisin' Hootenanny is Here!

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Texas populist Jim Hightower says he's out to "put the party back into politics."

To that end, the author of If The Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates is headlining the rip-roaring Rolling Thunder Down-Home Democracy tour, featuring political commentary, live music, good chow, cold beer and more. The hell-raisin' hootenany lights down in Tucson this Saturday, July 27, at downtown's Tucson Convention Center.

Hightower, whose commentary appears in the print edition of the Tucson Weekly, says the tour is meant to bring grassroots activists together to build coalitions for change. "There's a yearning in the countryside for people to get together, not just in high-tech but in high touch," he says.

When the tour debuted earlier this year in Austin with a line-up that included columnist Molly Ivins and social irritant Michael Moore, 7,000 people showed up. "It totally stunned us," Hightower says.

Hightower, who grew up in a family of hard-scrabble tenant farmers, truck drivers and railroad men in Dennison, Texas, has long railed against the corporate excess that's been exposed as the crash has come to Wall Street.

The one-time Texas Agricultural Commissioner isn't all that surprised to see the bubble burst, particularly when so much of paper value rested with "New Economy geniuses who sat in the their own bathwater and got to thinking it was champagne."

He's skeptical that the Bush Administration and Congress are up to task of cleaning up Wall Street boardrooms. "The system has been rigged for 20 years now," he says. "The same congressional critters who are now on their hind legs screaming for reform are the ones who rigged that system for corporate lobbyists. They rigged the accounting law, they rigged the tax laws, they rigged the pension laws, they rigged the regulatory laws."

Bush has a history of his own "slippery stock deals" from his days on the board of directors of Harken Energy. Hightower laughs at the notion of a tough SEC investigation under the first Bush administration, especially when high-ranking officials at the agency had tight ties to the First Family. Whether GW had inside information, "he sure dumped the stock right before it tanked."

Hightower doesn't expect to see those SEC investigative files opened anytime soon, given the Bush Administration's penchant for secrecy, whether it comes to withholding documents related to Enron and Halliburton to wanting to exempt the new Department of Homeland Security from the Freedom of Information Act. "This is the most secretive administration ever," Hightower says. "It makes Nixon look like an open government guy."

Hightower's traveling roadshow will showcase both national and local activists, including: Isabel Garcia of Derechos Humanos; essayist Barbara Ehrenreich; SDS co-founder Tom Hayden; local lefty Mark Zepezauer, a political cartoonist who published the now-defunct Comic News; and Granny D., who walked across the nation in the cause of campaign finance reform.

Musical guests include Medusa, DJ Greyboy, La Paz, Lisa Otey, Fishbone, Sara Lovell, Lose Changitos Feos, Strictly Native and other surprise guests. Surely we'll hear from Ted Warmbrand?

Hightower says the get-together's goal is nothing less than to "build a movement."

"Washington is not going to do the job for us," he says. "They're pretty much the one doing it to us. We've got to build a whole new progressive power structure at the grass-roots level that can begin to take power back from these greedheads and boneheads."

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