Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

The end of the Tommy era

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The Tommy era is over.

Former Wisconsin Governor and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson gave up his presidential bid yesterday as expected following his disappointing performance in the Ames IA straw poll. Thompson had hoped to finish second but finished a distant sixth instead.

We may be seeing the end of an amazing political career.

The former governor declined to run for governor or senator last year. The next time a race for either of those two positions comes up will be 2010, when Feingold comes up for re-election and Doyle may run for a third term. Thompson would be nearly 70 years old for those races. Thompson running would be highly unlikely.

Thompson should be remembered for welfare reform, Badger Care and education reform. He’ll also be remembered for the expansion of government during his time as governor and as HHS secretary, and his coziness with the road builders and gambling interests.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has a listing of primary source documents from “Tommy Thompson and the Conservative Revolution” worth looking through. Brian Fraley did a six-part series honoring the governor.

From my own personal recollection of Tommy, I think it would be hard to explain why he was such a bigger-than-life presence in Wisconsin politics after he beat Governor Tony Earl. Whatever else may be his legacy, Thompson truly loved being governor of Wisconsin. Not just the perks of office or the title or whatever. He loved the work of being governor and promoting this state and touting new ideas like school choice and welfare reform.

There was a personal connection between Tommy and the voters, too. When he would say, “How ’bout them Packers” it was with all the enthusiasm of the guy at the end of the bar rather than just a politician speaking to the masses. When he would joke about how we have more lakes than Minnesota (“and ours have fish in them”) he sounded like one of the guys poking fun at the neighbors. And when he said it was “Great day to be from Wisconsin” – he meant it.

It was all corny, but so was Tommy.

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