Scott Walker is no Tommy Thompson…gasp

I never thought I’d say this – I miss Tommy Thompson. Yes, Tommy…the same ex-Governor Scott Walker invoked himself to be so much like in his budget address. Just like so many things Walker has said in the past 6 months, that’s a stretch – some would say a downright lie. It’s too bad that Governor Thompson thinks so little of himself as to not call out the current Governor on his lack of historical insight. Let me state one thing – I am not a fan of Tommy Thompson. He was a large opponent of women’s reproductive rights, among other women’s issues including pay equity. He created a rift between teachers and school boards as municipalities came to grips with his Qualified Economic Offer policy, among other issues. Say what you want about his policies, the reason I miss Thompson is you always knew where he stood on an issue. Never duplicitous, he always told you what he thought. He was also a great cheerleader for Wisconsin – let’s face it, he loves Wisconsin, and enjoyed engaging the public in dialogue and conversation. Seeing a difference? Just in case Scott Walker (or anyone else) needs a little history lesson, let’s take a glimpse of Tommy Thompson – then you decide if the current Governor is anything like his Republican predecessor.

Tommy Thompson was first elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1966. He became the Assistant Minority Leader in 1973, the Minority Leader in 1981. Representative Thompson was known for his vast knowledge and use of Parliamentary Procedure (remember Robert’s Rules of Order?) to be sure his minority party was heard during debate and hearings in the Democrat controlled Assembly. His primary tactic was one of delay and obstruction – to allow the full bill to be considered and not rammed through by the majority (sound familiar?) – earning him the nickname “Dr. No.”

Thompson served as Governor from 1987 – 2001. His major achievements during that time were pioneering and controversial. As mentioned, there were many opposed to the following changes to Wisconsin – let’s focus on what they were, and why the basic difference between Thompson and Walker is so critical at this point in state history. First, Wisconsin Works. Thompson saw this as a path off welfare – a way for those on welfare to engage in the state economy by eventually earning a living wage. Yes, the program had its detractors and downside. But financially, the state spent $145.2M in 2004 on the program (

The first parental school choice program allowed parents of low-income families to allow their children to enroll in the public or private school of their choice – at state expense. As part of his education reform, Thompson initialized a complex formula to calculate aid to districts, including the controversial QEO (Qualified Economic Offer) capping pay increases to 3.8%. The original Milwaukee Public School program cost the state $2.8M/year, and expanded becoming a national model. The program was controversial yes – but seeing a trend here?

Badgercare – a program that has benefitted so many, and continues to this day, began under Thompson. He fought for its implementation and waivers from the Federal Government. In the initial fully implemented year, it cost the state $97.6M with some of the cost offset by the Federal Government. It enables thousands of Wisconsin’s neediest families and children to access necessary healthcare, instead of falling through the cracks, creating a larger financial burden on the state. .

Say what you will about Tommy – you hated his policies, or you thought he was the best thing to happen to Wisconsin since cheddar cheese. He had his moments – the Ojibwa spearfishing controversy, the medical conflicts of interest in his investments, his dedication to AMTRAK having fiscal ramifications(which led him to support high speed rail in the 1990’s!), etc. The above achievements of his administration show a trend. Tommy Thompson is a conservative, yes – but he was progressive in the sense of investing state resources toward the improvement of his state. In his way, he became an activist who believed “you have to spend money on welfare to end welfare” (Mordecai Lee). He was quoted as saying we “have to put money into those (state) resources, and we’ve done that.” During his administration, the state invested hundreds of millions of dollars on these and other programs. Yes, they followed his philosophy – remember, this is not a defense or glorification of Thompson. Here’s the difference between Thompson and Walker, in case I have to spell it out. Through engaging in a dialogue with the people of Wisconsin (including the Unions – he saw value in the collective bargaining system – his first state of the state address stressed the benefits of working WITH labor), he pursued an aggressive investment program in the state. The above mentioned programs were meant to help the struggling middle class families in the state. He INVESTED in them, in his own way, but he did invest money in these programs. This will be controversial to say, but it needs to be said. Thompson started as a minority member of the Assembly who bucked the majority, and made sure the minority was heard. He started programs that assist the needy in this state to this day, and face their abolishment to the DETRIMENT of those living and working in Wisconsin. And remember, Tommy always said what ne thought (for better or for worse), with Walker, well…this list is just a start – the top 10 lies with sources compiled by Education Minnesota. You can look deeper into this blog for more misleading untruths.

I stand by my statement – Scott Walker is no Tommy Thompson. If he were, we would be in a very different place in this debate. At least there would be a debate.


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