David Guarino

“Even though Hightower’s tenure was a contentious one, there was also a lot of cooperation back and forth, at least at the grassroots level. Of course, a lot of that was because things were so desperate out there people were willing to listen and willing to try stuff… Hightower created the Office of Farmer Assistance…And he said, basically, go out and fix all this. And because the legislature wouldn’t give us any money, in a way that turned out to be a good thing. Because we had to get really creative, and then they would, as soon as we got something off the ground, of course they would deal with what the legislature always does, which is cut your budget. So we got crafty about that. We started developing projects that could be spun off to nonprofits and, you know, church groups and whatever, or universities, and then we can move on to the next thing… In our little core group was like five or six people. We cranked out all these projects, because when they got up and running the legislature would attack us and we would say.. Okay, well Conference of Churches can do that. You know, Texas Tech’s doing that now, so we don’t have to do anymore. And we just kept doing that stuff. And that also worked too, because some of those things, they lasted quite a while and they became institutionalized. And so there was this, without meaning to, we developed this diffusion process, coming up with things, coming up with models, and then diffusing them.”

David Guarino wrote for the Texas Observer during Jim Hightower’s tenure as editor. He later joined the Texas Department of Agriculture, first in Farmer Assistance and then in Marketing. One of his projects was to develop the Toolbox, which included a do-it-yourself assessment of economic opportunities in your area and a directory of state and federal resources for marketing and development of value-added markets and where to go apply for small business loans. It was a huge success, so much so that the economic development departments of all the big utilities started asking for boxes full of these things which they gave to all their staff and then passed out to all these little Rural Development Corporations. The people in Fisher County did this do-it-yourself assessment of what their prospects were, and they came up with a list of about a dozen really cool projects. But of course, they had no money. So they dreamed of doing it someday. Every Friday, the secretary at the cotton gin would go over to Snyder, and she would buy lottery tickets for all the members of the coop. One Friday it paid off. It was famous at the time because they became known as the Roby Millionaires, who were about a dozen guys who shared in what was then the biggest jackpot in the Texas lottery. After they bought themselves new pickups, they put money into all these projects. They got almost all this stuff off the ground. They built a cottonseed oil mill. Then they upgraded the cotton gin and they started an RV park for retirees and did all sorts of other things. For just once they caught a lucky break, and they made the most of it.

Picture of David Guarino