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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Club for Growth Takes Aim at Tommy Thompson



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Chalk up the Club for Growth as not a fan of Tommy Thompson, an expected Republican candidate for Senate in Wisconsin:

The Club for Growth today issued the following statement on Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate Race in 2012:

“Tommy Thompson raised taxes as Governor, supported ObamaCare, and now he wants to run for the United States Senate? April Fools was weeks ago,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. “Wisconsin Republicans should recruit a pro-growth conservative to run, not recall some big-government pro-tax Republican whose time has come and gone. Club members are watching Wisconsin’s Senate race closely.”

I don’t begrudge Club for Growth or any other group the right to argue against any candidate they choose, but let’s not forget that as governor, he did sign into law some pretty ambitious and sweeping welfare-reform and school-choice initiatives. I mean, he’s not all bad.

Secondly… if Club for Growth wants a pro-growth Republican . . . who do they have in mind?

UPDATE: I’m looking at Thompson’s final score on CATO’s annual report card of governors, in 2000:

In his 14 years in the statehouse, Tommy Thompson established impeccable credentials as a policy innovator on issues ranging from welfare reform, to school vouchers and charter schools, to tax restructuring. Thompson was the first governor in the nation to totally overhaul the welfare system to encourage work, economic self-sufficiency,education, and marriage. His reforms have been controversial but mostly effective. The welfare caseload declines of more than 60 percent in Wisconsin have outpaced the reductions in other states. Thompson has been a champion of Milwaukee’s highly touted school voucher program, and his administration has successfully defended the vouchers in the courts.

On spending, Thompson has used his line-item veto power more than 1,600 times in his four terms as governor to weed out excessive expenditures. He has cut the income tax four times, most recently in 1999.

Still, conservatives in the state grouse with some justification that Thompson has moved to the left ideologically in his last two terms. In recent years, spending has far outpaced inflation and population growth—his fiscal 2000 budget grew by 13 percent in nominal terms. He has supported spending for sports stadiums in Milwaukee and Green Bay. Even with his tax cuts, state income tax collections have outpaced personal income growth (revenue growth is twice as high as personal income growth, in fact), suggesting that he should have provided even more tax relief. In 1998 he vetoed the Republican legislature’s property tax cut. He endorsed new taxes on cigarettes and gasoline. And he supports taxing Internet purchases. So in many ways, Thompson is a political enigma. His first two terms as governor produced some truly historic public policy accomplishments, but his last two terms were mildly disappointing as he has jockeyed himself into the middle of the political playing field.

A mixed record, but come on . . . the man’s no Dede Scozzafava, or even Mike Castle.

UPDATE: The Club for Growth calls my attention to his 2009 comments that praised the still-in-progress Obamacare:

In a statement distributed by the White House Monday, Tommy Thompson — the former Republican presidential candidate, health and human services secretary in the Bush administration, and four-term governor of Wisconsin — gives strong praise to the health care legislation that is expected to be voted on by the Senate Finance Committee later this week.

The statement, prepared jointly by Mr. Thompson and Richard Gephardt, the former Democratic House majority leader, warns that “there are some issues that remain troublesome and unresolved in the Senate Finance Committee’s bill.” But it calls the legislation “another important step toward achieving the goal of health care reform this year.” And more bluntly, it says: “Failure to reach an agreement on health reform this year is not an acceptable option.”

Yeah, for a lot of conservatives, that’s a deal-breaker. Then again, maybe Thompson just didn’t hear what Gephardt wanted him to sign, or perhaps he was distracted:

Tommy Thompson cited a dead hearing aid and an urgent need to use the bathroom in explaining on Saturday why he said at a GOP presidential debate that an employer should be allowed to fire a gay worker. Speaking to reporters after giving an address at the state GOP convention, Thompson also said he was suffering from the flu and bronchitis and had been admitted to a hospital emergency room three days prior to the May 3 debate.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Of course, then there’s this comment on the individual mandate, the same issue that is giving the Romney campaign such grief. This is from the October 12, 2008, Miami Herald; notice that Obama is opposed to the individual mandate, a stance that, as you know, reached its expiration date.

Pushing forward, a consensus of experts seems to be emerging for something that might seem radical to the public: requiring individuals to have health insurance.

Hillary Clinton advocated that during her campaign for the presidency.Obama stayed away from it because, as advisor Redlener put it, “I’m not sure how ready the country is politically to accept the overall mandate.’’

The Business Roundtable is ready for it. So is Stern, head of the Service Employees International Union. So are advocates for the uninsured like Davis at the Commonwealth Fund, and conservatives, like Thompson, the former head of HHS. Seeking to deradicalize it, Thompson puts it this way: “Just like people are required to have car insurance, they could be required to have health insurance.’’


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