1:48 pm in congressman paul, congressman paul ryan, Elections, milwaukee journal sentinel, milwaukee suburb, national welfare reform, republican congressman, republican stronghold, sentinel editorial, thompson wisconsin, welfare reform debate by PinkTeaPatriot
By: Tim Jones
Posted: Aug. 13th, 2012
Tommy Thompson, the longest-serving governor in Wisconsin history, dropped to the floor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board room last week and ripped through his morning push-up routine, as a video camera recorded a state political icon exercising in his stocking feet.
“Thompson flexes muscle,” read the headline on a video posted by the newspaper in its Aug. 8 online version. “Senate candidate, 70, knocks out 50 push-ups.”
The comeback trail for Thompson winds through a landscape foreign to a Republican accustomed to working with Democrats. The politics of confrontation now dominate Wisconsin, as Tea Party-backed Governor Scott Walker sparked and then survived a recall battle prompted by curbs on public employee collective bargaining. The state will be even more in the spotlight now that Mitt Romney has chosen Wisconsin Republican congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the House budget committee, as his vice presidential running mate.
Vitality is not the issue for four-term governor Thompson, who started the national welfare-reform debate by requiring able-bodied recipients in his state to find work and served as secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. In Wisconsin, a state whose motto is “Forward,” the political rebuttal to Thompson and his more than 40 years of public service is “backward.”
“Tommy needs to retire now,” said Susan Corkum, who runs an art gallery in Menominee Falls, a Milwaukee suburb that is part of the Republican stronghold of Waukesha County. “I enjoyed him as governor and I have nothing bad to say about him, but we need fresh faces and voices. Otherwise, everything stays the same.”
The anti-tax Tea Party is fresh from Republican primary victories in Indiana and Texas, where establishment-backed officials were overthrown by candidates eschewing political compromise. In the Indiana race, Tea Party-backed state Treasurer Richard Mourdock defeated six-term Indiana Senator Richard Lugar.
In Wisconsin, tomorrow’s primary for the right to fill the U.S. Senate seat of retiring four-term Democrat Herb Kohl, 77, features four conservative candidates who disagree on little.
Banker and investor Eric Hovde, 48, former Congressman Mark Neumann, 58, and State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, 45, and Thompson have pledged that after they defeat the Democratic nominee, Representative Tammy Baldwin, in November, they will go to Washington and cut taxes, balance the budget and repeal President Barack Obama’s health-care law.
While Wisconsin’s 7 percent unemployment rate in June ranked below the national jobless figure of 8.3 percent in July, the state suffered a net loss of 2,100 nonfarm jobs during the first two quarters of 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The absence of policy differences has put the spotlight on the authenticity of the candidates’ conservative credentials. That has magnified the influence of the Tea Party, which didn’t exist when Thompson left the governorship in 2001. Besides Walker, the group helped elect Ron Johnson to Wisconsin’s other Senate seat in 2010.
As governor, Thompson “was always willing to talk compromise,” said Mordecai Lee, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who served in the legislature when Thompson was governor. “The lines of communication were always open. He did not view government as the enemy. Now compromise is a dirty word. Tommy is really sort of swimming against the tide.”
Others disagree. Representative Tom Petri, who defeated Thompson in a 1979 run for Congress, said the former governor still fits in a changing Republican Party. “He’s a tough old bird, as they say,” said Petri, 72.
Thompson’s advocacy of a welfare overhaul and school choice demonstrates how Republicans in Wisconsin have “been on the forefront of new innovations for a century,” said Petri. “That continues, although the vocabulary has changed.”
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