Wineke: It’s Not Over Yet, Tommy

Thompson Hails Fight Against Virus In Farewell As Uw Leader
Michael P. King - member image share, Wisconsin State Journal

FILE - Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson speaks at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis., on Jan. 31, 2017. Thompson, who has spent more than 50 years in public service, said in a farewell address Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, that the University of Wisconsin System has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than before he took over as interim president. Thompson took the temporary job in the early months of the pandemic in July 2020 and held it until a permanent successor was named.

I had decidedly mixed feelings when I read that Tommy Thompson has decided against running for governor this year.

I wouldn’t have voted for him. I think Tony Evers has done a remarkably good job steering the state through a vitriol prof period and deserves reelection.

At the same time, Tommy is one of my political heroes, a happy warrior who has devoted his life to making Wisconsin a better place and making politics a respectable profession.

We’ve known each other, slightly, since we were University of Wisconsin students back in the Kennedy era of the 1960s. He was a leader of the Young Republicans and I was a writer for the Daily Cardinal. He went on to a stellar career in politics, including four terms as governor. I became a writer for the Wisconsin State Journal and wrote columns poking fun at him.

There’s no question he could run the state. Thompson is 80 years old but he spent the last couple of years as interim president of the UW-System and did an incredible job of turning that seemingly backwater position into one of unquestioned leadership.

In announcing he wouldn’t run because his family is 100 percent against the project, Thompson said he wanted to run because “my brand of politics is different. I wanted to articulate my brand of politics.”

And that’s why I have such mixed feelings. I would like desperately to see the Republican Party return to Thompson’s brand of politics.

Because, no matter how much I personally might have disagreed with Tommy’s policies, I never doubted that his goal was to make this a better state.

I do not see that any place in today’s GOP leadership, which seems most fixated on appeasing Donald Trump and his proto-fascist attack on democracy.

At the same time, I doubt Thompson could have succeeded in that goal. He might have won the office, but I don’t think he would have changed his party.

To be a leader, you must have followers who share your vision. Republicans have been in charge of the state’s Legislature for 12 years and if you think there’s one thing they have done to make this a better state, more power to you. I can’t.

Nor do I think Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos would have much interest in sharing power with a resurgent Tommy Thompson.

Given all that, I think that Thompson, rather than running for governor, should run for a seat in the Assembly.

From there, he could do what he does best, spend his remaining years rebuilding his party brick by brick and using his stature as a public voice for democracy.