It was near the end of Mike Gousha’s interview with US Senate candidate Tommy Thompson. Alluding to critics, many from the right, Gousha asked, “So when they say –and they do say — Tommy Thompson is part of the problem in Washington, not part of the solution, you say?”
“Get out of my way,” Thompson answered quickly.
If you think that at 70, the political fire inside Thompson has diminished, you should have seen him during the “On the Issues” session with Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy at Eckstein Hall on Thursday. (In fact, you can, by clicking here for the video.)
The man elected governor of Wisconsin four times before serving four years as US Secretary of Health and Human Services was every bit the forceful, self-confident, optimistic, almost swaggering figure before about 200 people that Wisconsinites knew so well in the 1980s and 1990s.
When Gousha said other people running for the open US Senate seat wanted the job as much as Thompson did, Thompson said, “I don’t think so.”
Thompson appeared to be close to taking offense when Gousha said that, if elected, he would be only a junior senator from Wisconsin. “I don’t believe that,” Thompson said. He said he believed he would be regarded as a leader who could bring Republicans and Democrats together to deal with a federal debt problem that is threatening the quality of life in the future and to promote a stronger economy. He said he’d be looked to by other senators as an expert on issues such as health care policy.
He recounted his successes as governor and as a cabinet member, including Wisconsin’s economic record while he was in office and his roles in reforming welfare policy and launching Milwaukee’s private school voucher program. (He even mentioned a Super Bowl victory by the Packers and Rose Bowl wins by the Wisconsin Badgers while he was governor.)
“I was able to change the attitude of this state,” he said. “I did this, ladies and gentlemen, with Democrats in charge of both houses of the Legislature.”
He can do the same as a senator, he said. “We can build Wisconsin and we can build America, and that’s what I believe America and the public are thirsting for me, and I think they would love to have somebody like me stand up and say, that’s the way we’re going to do it and that’s the direction we’re going to go. And I bet you I got a lot of people who want to follow me,” Thompson said.
He referred to himself frequently as “a builder” and said he would rather be labeled “a do-er” than any political label such as “conservative.”
Thompson defended himself against contentions by critics that he had reversed his positions on issues such as the federal health care law and high speed rail. Asked about attacks that he is not sufficiently conservative, attacks largely funded by the national Club for Growth, Thompson said:
“Just because the Club for Growth nationally is wrong doesn’t mean anyone else has to follow them. They want somebody else to win the Republican primary in Wisconsin. They want somebody to go to Washington just to vote no. . . . They know that I’m going to go out there and shake things up and make things happen, and they’re afraid of that.”
“That’s what America wants, they want a builder again,’ Thompson said. “They want somebody that is optimistic, that believes the United States’ future is still the shining city on the hill that Ronald Reagan talked about.”
As for others who want to succeed retiring Democrat Herb Kohl in the Senate, Thompson said, “Who are they? . . . Did they ever get endorsed by Ronald Reagan?”
Other candidates for senator are expected to take part in upcoming “On the Issues” sessions. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Democratic candidate, is scheduled to appear at 12:15 p.m. April 9.