Gov. Tommy G. Thompson (R)|
Last Updated November 11, 1999
term expires Jan. 2003
Born: Nov. 19, 1941,
Education: U. of WI, B.A. 1963, J.D. 1966
Marital Status: married
- Political: WI Assembly, 1966-86, Asst. Minority Ldr., 1973-81, Floor Ldr., 1981-86.
- Professional: Practicing atty, 1966-present; Chmn., Repub. Govs. Assn., 1991-92; Chmn., Natl. Govs. Assn., 1995-96.
Office: State Capitol, 115 E. State Capitol, Madison
608-266-1212; Web: www.state.wi.us.
Tommy Thompson, Wisconsin's Republican governor, was first elected in 1986. He grew up in Elroy, 85 miles north of Madison, where his father ran a gas station and general store and his mother taught school. For most of his life he has been commuting from Elroy to Madison, first as a student at the University of Wisconsin, where he was a Goldwater Republican on a campus full of liberal Democrats, then to the legislature when he was elected in 1966 just after finishing law school, and since 1986 as governor. For years he was part of the minority party in Madison, assistant minority leader in 1973 and minority leader in 1981; ''Dr. No,'' his liberal critics called him. Now he is the dominant political figure in the state. He has used Wisconsin's extraordinary ''partial veto'' more than 1,600 times on spending. He can strike not only lines from the budget, but words and numbers, enabling him to cut a program by 90% by dropping one zero. He cut income and capital gains taxes and repealed the gift and inheritance taxes; he funded a property tax cut with spending cuts; he improved the business climate. He boasts that he has cut taxes 87 times and reduced them by more than $8 billion, and says that Wisconsin now has one of the smallest state bureaucracies. And he has kept going: in 1999 he proposed a $300 million income tax cut. He pushed for tough crime bills and an Information Technology Fund which will make government services more efficient and cost effective through expanded technology. He sponsored a Stewardship Fund to spend $250 million over 10 years on buying environmentally sensitive land; he worked to reintroduce elk and wolves to northern Wisconsin and to protect the state's bald eagles. He is an enthusiast for mass transit and rail transportation, and was appointed to the Amtrak Board of Directors by George Bush and Bill Clinton; in 1998 he became chairman.
Thompson is best known, however, for having instituted the nation's most thoroughgoing welfare reform. This was not a single piece of legislation, but an ongoing process in which Thompson sought not only new laws from the legislature but worked to reshuffle agencies and create new incentives for government agencies and employers to change the culture of the caregiving institutions--from one favoring continual dependence to one favoring work and independence. Thompson started with ''learnfare'' in 1987, tying grants to children's school attendance; then ''bridefare'' in 1992, with incentives for marriage and against more children; ''work not welfare'' in 1995, requiring work and scouting for jobs for recipients. His ''Wisconsin Works,'' (known as W-2) ending welfare grants altogether and requiring recipients to either work or perform community service, went into effect in stages around the state in 1997 and 1998, with government agencies and nonprofits bidding for the chance to run county or Milwaukee-area programs, and welfare rolls plunged down from 100,000 families a decade ago to 9,000. This is not necessarily a cheap program; W-2 provides generous child care for new workers, provides job skills counseling, and has created public sector jobs--at lower than private-sector wages--to employ every former recipient. Initial results suggest that 80% have found jobs, most at or above the minimum wage.
Thompson has strongly supported Milwaukee's school voucher program and has pushed through statewide charter schools. He started a youth apprenticeship program, based on a German model, in 1992, and has put together School-to-Work programs. In 1999 he proposed a Family Care program, with options for seniors and the disabled.
The secrets of Thompson's success have been hard work, good political instincts and a common touch. He refers constantly to his home town of Elroy, and refers to the rest of the state as ''greater metropolitan Elroy.'' ''Let's face it,'' he likes to say, ''It's hard to be humble when you're from Wisconsin.'' He has had some disappointments: he lost the primary for a vacant congressional seat to Tom Petri in 1979, and he has not always been taken as seriously at the national level as he thinks he deserves. He has been mentioned as a presidential candidate, and has a record that would entitle him to serious attention; but in March 1999 he concluded that he had little chance and said he would not run, instead endorsing George W. Bush.
Thompson was first elected governor with 53% of the vote; he was re-elected with 58% in 1990 and 67% in 1994. He said in 1994 he would not run again, then changed his mind, saying many of his initiatives needed more work. In 1998 there was talk that Senator Herb Kohl would run for governor, but in January 1998 he took himself out of the race. The Democratic nominee was Ed Garvey, once head of the National Football League Players' Association and a Senate candidate in 1986 (he lost to Republican Bob Kasten 51%-47%) and 1988 (he finished third in the primary). Garvey promised to accept no contribution over $100; Thompson outspent him by about 8-1, and won 60%-39%, carrying all but four counties: two in the far north, one an Indian reservation and the other the county containing Madison. He has said he will not run for another term as governor. But he could run for senator some day, or serve in a Republican Cabinet in Washington, or perhaps as vice president.
||Tommy G.Thompson (R)
|Ed Garvey (D)
||Tommy G. Thompson (R)
|Jeffrey A. Hyslop (R)
||Tommy G. Thompson (R)
|Chuck Chvala (D)
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