Tommy Thompson

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Tommy Thompson
Official portrait, c. 2001
President of the University of Wisconsin System
In office
July 1, 2020 – March 18, 2022
Preceded byRaymond W. Cross
Succeeded byJay Rothman
19th United States Secretary of Health and Human Services
In office
February 2, 2001 – January 26, 2005
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byDonna Shalala
Succeeded byMike Leavitt
Chair of the National Governors Association
In office
August 1, 1995 – July 16, 1996
Preceded byHoward Dean
Succeeded byBob Miller
42nd Governor of Wisconsin
In office
January 5, 1987 – February 1, 2001
LieutenantScott McCallum
Preceded byTony Earl
Succeeded byScott McCallum
Minority Leader of the Wisconsin State Assembly
In office
December 17, 1981 – January 5, 1987
Preceded byJohn C. Shabaz
Succeeded byBetty Jo Nelsen
Member of the Wisconsin State Assembly
from the 42nd district
In office
January 2, 1967 – January 5, 1987
Preceded byLouis C. Romell
Succeeded byBen Brancel
ConstituencyAdamsJuneauMarquette district (1967–1973)
79th district (1973–1983)
87th district (1983–1985)
Personal details
Tommy George Thompson

(1941-11-19) November 19, 1941 (age 82)
Elroy, Wisconsin, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Sue Mashak
(m. 1968)
RelativesEd Thompson (brother)
EducationUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison (BA, JD)
Military service
AllegianceUnited States
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Wisconsin Army National Guard
United States Army Reserve
Years of service1966–1972 (ARNG)
1972–1976 (USAR)
Rank Captain

Tommy George Thompson (born November 19, 1941) is an American Republican politician from Juneau County, Wisconsin. He served as the 19th United States secretary of Health and Human Services from 2001 to 2005 in the cabinet of President George W. Bush. Before that, he was the 42nd governor of Wisconsin (1987–2001) and Republican floor leader in the Wisconsin State Assembly (1981–1987).

He is the longest-serving governor in Wisconsin history, holding office from January 1987 until February 2001, and is the only person to be elected to the office four times. During his tenure as governor he was also chair of Amtrak, the nation's passenger rail service. He was chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 1991 and 1992, and the National Governors Association in 1995 and 1996. After his time in the Bush Administration, Thompson became a partner in the law-firm Akin Gump and Independent Chairman of Deloitte's Center for Health Solutions. He has served on the boards of 22 other organizations.[1] Thompson most recently served as interim president of the University of Wisconsin System from 2020 to 2022.[2][3]

Thompson was a candidate for President of the United States, running in the 2008 Republican Party presidential primaries, but withdrew from the race before voting began.[4] He was the Republican nominee for United States Senate in Wisconsin in the 2012 election, vying to replace retiring senator Herb Kohl, but was defeated by Democrat Tammy Baldwin in what was his only statewide election loss.[5]

Early life, education, and military service[edit]

Childhood and family[edit]

Thompson was born in Elroy, Wisconsin.[6][7] His mother, Julie (née Dutton), was a teacher, and his father, Allan Thompson, owned and ran a gas station and country grocery store.[8][9][10] His brother, the late Ed Thompson, was a mayor of Tomah, Wisconsin, and was the Libertarian Party nominee for Governor of Wisconsin in 2002.[11]

He has a daughter, Kelli Thompson, who is a lawyer working as Wisconsin's state public defender.[12]


Thompson earned his bachelor and Juris Doctor degrees from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1963 and 1966, respectively.[6][7] While in law school, Thompson was elected chairman of the Madison Young Republicans.[13][14][15]

Vietnam and military service[edit]

Thompson held a student deferment from military service during the Vietnam War until he completed law school in June 1966.[16] The following year, 1966, Thompson enlisted in the National Guard.[16]

After completing six years in the National Guard, Thompson served in the Army Reserves for another four years.[17][18] His final rank was captain.[18]

Early political career (1966–1987)[edit]

Wisconsin Assembly[edit]

Immediately after completing law school in 1966, Thompson ran for the Wisconsin State Assembly.[16] In the Republican primary, he defeated incumbent Assemblyman Louis Romell by 635 votes, after Romell had underestimated the challenge Thompson represented.[16]

In 1973, Thompson became the Assembly's assistant minority leader and, in 1981, its minority leader.[19] Thompson aggressively used parliamentary procedure to block bills favored by the Democratic majority and stop legislative progress, earning him the nickname "Dr. No" by the frustrated majority.[20][21]

American Legislative Exchange Council[edit]

As a state legislator, Thompson was involved in the early years of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative legislative organization.[22][23][24][25] Speaking at a 2002 ALEC meeting, Thompson stated: "I always loved going to [ALEC] meetings because I always found new ideas. Then I'd take them back to Wisconsin, disguise them a little bit, and declare, 'That's mine.'"[22][23][24] ALEC awarded Thompson its "Thomas Jefferson Award" in 1991.[26]

1979 congressional election[edit]

While Thompson was Assistant Minority Leader in the Assembly, incumbent Republican U.S. Congressman William Steiger of Wisconsin's 6th congressional district died at the age of 40 from a heart attack.[27] Thompson was one of seven Republican candidates who ran to replace Steiger in the special election in 1979.[28] Tom Petri won the primary and general elections and represented the 6th district until his retirement in January 2015.

Governor of Wisconsin (1987–2001)[edit]

Thompson served as the 42nd Governor of Wisconsin, having been elected to an unprecedented four terms. As of April 2013, Thompson has the tenth longest gubernatorial tenure in post-Constitutional U.S. history at 5,141 days.[29]



Thompson decided to run for Governor of Wisconsin in 1986 against incumbent Democrat Anthony Earl. He ran and won the Republican primary with 52% of the vote in a five candidate field.[30] He defeated Earl 53%–46%.[31]


Thompson won election to a second term defeating Democrat Thomas Loftus, the Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, 58%–42%.[32]


Thompson won election to a third term defeating Democratic state senator Chuck Chvala 67%–31%. He won every county in the state except Menominee County.[33]


Thompson won election to a fourth term defeating Democrat Ed Garvey, a Wisconsin Deputy Attorney General, 60%–39%.[34]


Then-Governor Thompson meets President Bill Clinton, 1993

Thompson is best known nationally for changes in Wisconsin's welfare system,[21] which was radically downsized,[35] before similar ideas were adopted nationally.[21] Under his leadership, Wisconsin reduced its welfare rolls by almost 90%, cutting welfare spending but increasing investments in child care and health care, especially for low-income working families.[21]

Thompson as governor.

Thompson was called a "pioneer" for two key initiatives of his governorship, the Wisconsin Works welfare reform (sometimes called W-2) and school vouchers.[36][37] In 1990 Thompson pushed for the creation of the country's first parental school-choice program, which provided Milwaukee families with a voucher to send children to the private or public school of their choice. He created the BadgerCare program, designed to provide health coverage to those families whose employers don't provide health insurance but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Through the federal waiver program, Thompson helped replicate this program in several states when he became Secretary of Health and Human Services.[citation needed]

Thompson was well known for his extensive use of the veto, particularly his sweeping line-item veto powers. At the time, Wisconsin governors had the power to strike out words, numbers, and even entire sentences from appropriations bills. In his first two terms alone, he used the line-item veto 1,500 times to cancel a total of $150 million in spending; none of these vetoes were overridden.[38]

Thompson's welfare reform policies were criticized.[21] Wendell Primus of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote that "Many families have actually lost ground even though they are no longer on welfare." Many of Wisconsin's poor remained well below the federal poverty line. In addition, slightly more of the state's poorest children reportedly lacked health insurance than before Thompson's welfare overhaul.[21]

The growth of the state budget during Thompson's 14-year tenure became a subject of attacks on his record as governor later by conservative opponents in the 2012 U.S. Senate primary.[39]

Transportation focus[edit]

While governor, Thompson was appointed to the Amtrak Board of Directors by President Bill Clinton, served as chairman, and had an Amtrak locomotive named for him from 2001[40][41][42] through 2006, when his name was removed from the side of the locomotive as part of a routine overhaul.[43]

Thompson is a rail enthusiast, and was a supporter of mass transit, which earned him distrust on the issue from other Republicans.[21] Prior to being selected as HHS Secretary, Thompson made clear that his first choice in the Bush Administration would be Secretary of Transportation.[21]


In 1996, Thompson bragged that he never raised taxes in Wisconsin.[16] Thompson claimed to cut taxes 91 times—including eliminating the estate tax in 1987,[44] cutting income tax rates three times[45] and a $1.2 billion property tax cut in 1995.[46][47]

When Thompson made the same claim, in 2012, that he "never raised taxes", he earned a rating of "False" from PolitiFact-Wisconsin.[47] PolitiFact found numerous examples of taxes that had increased during Thompson's terms. Politifact said in its rating, "Thompson has a long list of taxes he cut and, on balance, he can claim to have reduced taxes. But he also raised some specific taxes along the way." Politifact rated Mostly True Thompson's claim that Wisconsin's overall tax burden went down while he served as governor from 1987 to 2001.[47]

Two of the tax increases that Thompson did fight, using the Wisconsin governor's partial-veto power, were taxes on the state's wealthiest residents.[16] In a budget bill in 1987, Thompson vetoed two tax increases on capital gains and the alternative minimum tax, that would have largely affected the wealthy,[16] at the same time that he pushed forward a six percent cut in welfare benefits.[16]

Executive power consolidation[edit]

As governor, Thompson took major steps to transfer decision-making power from elected constitutional officers and independent agencies to his political appointees.[16] Among the changes:

  • The Secretary of State's office was gutted of its responsibilities concerning business registration and Uniform Commercial Code administration.[48] These functions were in turn vested in Thompson's appointee at the newly created Department of Financial Institutions, which also regulates depository institutions and the securities industry.
  • Enforcement of consumer protection laws was taken away from the elected Wisconsin Attorney General and transferred to Thompson's appointee at what is now the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
  • The Wisconsin Office of Public Intervenor, which for decades prior functioned as an ombudsman for the state's natural resources protected under the Public Trust Doctrine, had its budget significantly reduced, shrinking its staff and eliminating its power to sue in environmental cases; Thompson effectively shifted these powers to an appointed natural resources secretary.
  • An attempt was made to transfer education policy to an appointed education secretary after the constitutional head of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction of Wisconsin, saw most of the office's powers gutted. The Wisconsin Supreme Court later ruled the move unconstitutional.[16][49]

Thompson also had two other acts overturned by the courts as unconstitutional.[16] His plan to include church schools in his school voucher plan was found unconstitutional.[16] Thompson also insisted on keeping Good Friday as a half-holiday for state workers, "despite a clear ruling" from the Seventh Circuit, earning a rebuke from the court.[16]


As governor, Thompson was friendly to tobacco interests.[21] His campaign accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and trips from Philip Morris.[21] He also vetoed a tobacco excise tax and "delayed authorizing the state attorney general to join other state[s] in a lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers.[21]


Thompson is Catholic and opposes abortion. His support for legislation in Wisconsin restricting abortions led Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and other pro-choice groups to oppose his nomination to head HHS.[21]

Treatment of Ojibwa spearfishers[edit]

In 1983, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued its "Voigt Decision", which found that Wisconsin's Ojibwa tribe had a treaty-guaranteed right to engage in traditional spearfishing off-reservation and that the state of Wisconsin was prohibited from regulating fishing on Ojibwa land.[50] The decision was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1983.[50][51]

During his 1986 gubernatorial campaign, Thompson suggested abrogating the Ojibwa's rights.[50] Once in office, Thompson called on two Ojibwa tribes to sell their treaty-guaranteed rights: the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, for $42 million, and the Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, for $10 million.[50] Thompson's administration tried an unsuccessful legal challenge to the "Voigt Decision".[50] The State of Wisconsin argued that Native Americans' lives were in danger from protesters if they continued spearfishing.[50]

In 1989, federal judge Barbara Crabb ruled against the Thompson Administration's legal efforts. The judge rebuked the state for attempting to avoid violence by punishing the Ojibwa, since it was violence by non-Native American protesters that was the threatened danger.[51] Crabb issued an injunction against violent anti-spearfishing protests in 1991, and made it permanent in 1992.[52] On May 20, 1991, the Thompson administration declared it would no longer attempt to appeal the 1983 Voight Decision.[50]

Other leadership roles[edit]

During his time as governor, Thompson served as chairman of the National Governors Association and the Education Commission of the States,[16] in addition to the Council of State Governments, the Republican Governors Association, the Council of Great Lakes Governors, and the Midwestern Governors Association.

Vice presidential discussion[edit]

Thompson's name had been in the press as a possible vice presidential pick during several election seasons. By 1992, Thompson himself had openly discussed his desire to be the Republican vice presidential nominee for 1996.[16]

Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole considered Thompson as a possible vice presidential nominee in 1996 and Thompson openly lobbied for the position.[16] However, Thompson was forced to fight off perceptions of being someone to "bluster through a speech, turn bombastic during public statements", and have difficulty thinking on his feet. During the 1996 vetting process, Dole also reportedly remarked on Thompson's lack of finesse in their interactions.[16]

After Dole disclosed that Thompson was no longer under consideration, Thompson stated that he was relieved because he had been "scared to death" of the process and the spotlight of the position.[53] In 2000, Thompson was mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate for George W. Bush.[54]

Health and Human Services Secretary[edit]

Thompson at the 2004 HealthierUS summit

Thompson left the governorship when he was appointed by President George W. Bush as HHS Secretary. He was confirmed by the Senate on January 24, 2001. Thompson announced his resignation from HHS on December 3, 2004,[55] and served until January 26, 2005, when the Senate confirmed his successor, Michael O. Leavitt.

While Secretary, he launched initiatives to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health,[55] reorganize the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to encourage greater responsiveness and efficiency, and clear the backlog of waivers and state plan amendments. He approved 1,400 state plans and waiver requests, thereby providing health insurance to 1.8 million lower-income Americans.[56] In the aftermath of 9/11, he also worked on strengthening the nation's preparedness for a bio-terrorism attack, by stockpiling smallpox vaccines and investing heavily in state and local public health infrastructure.[57]

Key initiatives[edit]

Thompson's major initiatives were "efforts to strengthen U.S. preparedness for a bioterrorism attack, increase funding for the National Institutes of Health, expand health insurance coverage to lower-income Americans, and focus attention on health problems such as obesity and diabetes."[58] He also was elected chairman of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2003.[59]

Medicare prescription drug-benefit[edit]

Thompson was one of the key architects of the 2003 passage of Bush's Medicare Modernization Act, which was slated to provide public funding for prescription drugs for Medicare recipients starting in 2006. On the prescription drug-benefit issue, the major piece of health care legislation of President Bush's first term, Thompson frequently served as the president's point man. National analysts cite the passage of Medicare reform as the most important achievement of Thompson's tenure as HHS secretary.[60]

As part of the debate over the adoption of Medicare Part D, Thompson was involved in a dispute over whether the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services had to share cost estimates to Congress for legislation that would create a prescription drug benefit. Critics accused Thompson and HHS of downplaying the true cost of the law by $150 billion. CMS Administrator Tom Scully threatened to fire a CMS actuary if he revealed to Congress his estimate. Investigators determined that the data was improperly hidden from Congress, but did not conclude whether laws had been broken.[61] In 2011 the trustees of Medicare found that the prescription drug benefit had come in 40% below estimates, the Congressional Budget Office (using different budgeting numbers) determined that the program had come in 28% below projections.[62]

In her Senate campaign, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) said in 2012 that Thompson was responsible for forbidding Medicare to negotiate drug prices, a statement that Politifact rated as "True."[63] Thompson said that he had nothing to do with that provision, a statement Politifact rated as "False."[64][65] The New York Times reported, "In December (2004), just before leaving office, Mr. Leavitt’s predecessor, Tommy G. Thompson, said he wished Congress had given him the authority to negotiate prices for Medicare beneficiaries, as he negotiated discounts on antibiotics during the anthrax scare of 2001."[66]

2001 anthrax scare[edit]

Early in his term, Thompson faced an emergency situation with the 2001 anthrax attacks. Thompson was given poor marks for seeming "utterly overtaken by events" and issuing "early statements that the government was prepared to deal with any biological emergency [that] never squared with the facts."[67]

At a White House briefing following the first anthrax death of the scare, Thompson made a statement to the press that "would be cited for years afterward as a historic blunder in crisis communication."[68] Thompson offered the media a "far-fetched" suggestion that the individual who died had come into contact with anthrax from drinking water from a creek.[69] Thompson's words were criticized by a range of experts as unwarranted, potentially undermining public confidence, and as the "kind of statements that lead to mistrust of officials and experts."[70][71] Thompson was also faulted for positioning himself as the voice of the Administration to the public on this issue, having had no formal training in medicine or public health.[68]

Alleged politicizing of science[edit]

In 2001, early in his term as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Thompson's office rejected 19 of 26 people, including a Nobel laureate, recommended for seats on the advisory board for the NIH developing nations unit by the unit's director.[72] In return, Thompson's office sent back to the unit's director, Gerald Keusch of the Fogarty International Center, résumés for other scientists that Keusch described as "lightweights" with "no scientific credibility." Keusch relayed to one of those rejected, Nobel laureate Torsten Wiesel, that he was pushed aside for having "signed too many full-page letters in The New York Times critical of President Bush."[73] This incident was cited by the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists as part of a report detailing their allegations of a "politicization of science" under President George W. Bush's administration.[74][75]

Resignation press conference[edit]

Thompson resigned on December 3, 2004, in a press conference at which he issued warnings over the dangers of avian flu and the poisoning of U.S. food supplies by terrorists.[58] Thompson stated that he had attempted to resign in 2003, but remained until after the President's reelection at the administration's request.[76][77][78] Some noted, in particular, his words: "I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not, you know, attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do. And we are importing a lot of food from the Middle East, and it would be easy to tamper with that."[58]

Post-government career[edit]

After leaving the public sector at the end of the Bush Administration, Thompson joined the law firm Akin Gump, and the consulting firm Deloitte and joined the boards of directors of other companies.[1][79]

Thompson also joined the board of about two dozen private companies and nonprofit groups.[80]

In 2011, Thompson was paid more than $1.1 million in cash and stock incentives from five public companies, Thompson's consulting firm was paid $471,000 by six companies, and Thompson himself received $3 million from the sale of a healthcare firm he chaired. Thompson's work with these companies and other investments led him to accumulate a disclosed net worth of $13 million.[80]

A number of those companies and organizations "he helps oversee have faced an array of troubles, including claims of making faulty and dangerous medical implants, failing grades from a corporate watchdog and allegations of misleading investors." An expert with one agency that gave failing marks three of the six public companies who boards Thompson sits on commented that "either [Thompson] has really bad luck choosing companies...or he is one of the directors on company boards who is not exercising sufficient oversight."[80]

Health care consulting and law firm[edit]

Thompson became a partner at law firm Akin Gump, a Washington, D.C., law firm that engages in federal lobbying.[1] There, Thompson provided "strategic advice" to the lobbyists in the firm's health care practice, advising them on how to most successfully lobby government officials on behalf of the firm's clients.[1]

He also became a senior advisor at the professional services firm Deloitte and became Independent Chairman of its Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.[79][81] Thompson was no longer associated with Deloitte by October 2011.[79]

For the United States presidential election in 2016 Thompson initially endorsed fellow Republican John Kasich.[citation needed] In early July Thompson, a delegate to the Republican national convention, endorsed Donald Trump.[82]


After leaving office, Thompson began offering policy solutions for a variety of programs that he had overseen as HHS Secretary.[83] However, critics claimed many changes would benefit companies Thompson owned or had a financial stake in (including Centene and the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions).[83] These included transferring some Medicaid beneficiaries from federal to state responsibility and requiring digitization of medical records, which would directly benefit those companies.[83]

Public interest activities[edit]

Thompson spoke as a panelist at a 2005 Havard Kennedy School conference on global poverty, where he discussed medical diplomacy.[84] Thompson also authored a Boston Globe op-ed on the topic.[85]

One of the nonprofit organizations that Thompson joined the board of, Medical Missions for Children, recruited Thompson to co-host a number of episodes of one of its health instructional series, Plain Talk about Health.[86]

2008 presidential campaign[edit]

After first announcing the formation of an exploratory committee in late 2006, Thompson announced his candidacy for the 2008 presidential election on April 1, 2007.[87]

Statement about sexual orientation and workplace protections[edit]

During a May 3, 2007, presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Thompson was asked by moderator Chris Matthews whether a private employer opposed to homosexuality should have the right to fire a gay worker.[88] He said, "I think that is left up to the individual business. I really sincerely believe that that is an issue that business people have got to make their own determination as to whether or not they should be." He called CNN the following morning to say he did not hear the question correctly. He apologized, saying, "It's not my position. There should be no discrimination in the workplace."

Gaffe about Jews, Israel[edit]

I'm in the private sector and for the first time in my life I'm earning money. You know that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition and I do not find anything wrong with that. [...]
I just want to clarify something because I didn't in any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things. What I was referring to, ladies and gentlemen, is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion. You've been outstanding business people and I compliment you for that.

— Tommy Thompson, address to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism – Consultation on Conscience, Washington, DC, April 16, 2007

Thompson was courting public support, not trying to alienate people—which means he somehow believed that repeating an age-old stereotype about Jews and money would please his Jewish listeners! There could be no more vivid illustration of how deeply ingrained these stereotypes have become.

— Abraham Foxman, National Director, Anti-Defamation League, Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype (Macmillan, 2010, p. 139)

In April 2007, Thompson was compelled to apologize for remarks he made about Jews and Israel during an address to an assembled crowd of Jewish social activists in Washington, D.C.[89]

On April 16, 2007, appearing before a conference organized by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Thompson referenced his lucrative transition from public service to the private sector[90][91] and invoked old, slanderous stereotypes linking Judaism with finance.[92] Thompson stated: "You know that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition and I do not find anything wrong with that."[91] Thompson then returned to the podium with the intention of clearing up his earlier comments,[93] adding: "I just want to clarify something because I didn't (by) any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things. What I was referring to, ladies and gentlemen, is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion. You've been outstanding business people and I compliment you for that."[91] Thompson's comments caused "unease in the room" as the attendees tried to decode the meaning of Thompson's use of this stereotype.[90][92]

Thompson made a variety of other lesser gaffes, including referring to the Anti Defamation League as the fringe Jewish Defense League, and to Israel bonds as "Jewish bonds".[90][94][95] He discussed his connections to politically conservative Israeli and Jewish leaders while speaking to the mostly liberal leaning group[90][94]

Conference organizers noted the unease with Thompson's words but otherwise limited their comments on the faux pas, instead thanking Thompson for being one of the speakers at the conference.[96]

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, later wrote of the incident that "there could be no more vivid illustration of how deeply ingrained these stereotypes [about Jews and finances] have become" than Thompson's belief that "repeating an age-old stereotype about Jews and money would please his Jewish listeners!"[92]

After the event, Thompson told Politico that his remarks could be blamed on fatigue and a persistent cold.[89] Journalists believed that Thompson had instead failed to prepare for the event, acquaint himself beforehand with the likely audience, and recruit an adviser to properly brief him before the event.[90][94]

Iowa straw poll; withdrawal and endorsements[edit]

Thompson had stated he would drop out of the race if he did not finish either first or second in the Ames straw poll on August 11, 2007. Thompson finished sixth, with just 7% of the vote, despite the fact that some major contenders were not competing in the poll. On August 12, Thompson officially announced he would drop out of the race.[citation needed] In October, Thompson endorsed Rudy Giuliani. Thompson told the Associated Press in a statement that "Rudy Giuliani has shown that he is a true leader. He can and will win the nomination and the presidency. He is America's mayor, and during a period of time of great stress for this country he showed tremendous leadership." He then endorsed Senator John McCain after Giuliani's withdrawal from the presidential race.[97] In a New York Times article published October 11, 2008, Thompson was quoted in response to a question regarding whether he was happy with McCain's campaign as saying, "No. I don't know who is."[98]

Political contributions[edit]

Thompson made campaign contributions to two Democrats in 2008[99] – $250 to Michigan Senator Carl Levin and $100 to Bev Perdue, who was running for Governor of North Carolina. Both Democrats won in that year's elections. All told, Thompson contributed $11,350 to Republican candidates for federal office in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 election cycles, while contributing another $4,900 to Wisconsin Republicans during those same cycles.

2012 U.S. Senate election[edit]

On September 19, 2011; Thompson announced he would run for the seat vacated by Sen. Herb Kohl,[100] formally announcing on December 1, 2011. He won the Republican nomination on August 14, 2012, after a bitter four-way primary battle against a field that included millionaire hedge fund manager Eric Hovde, former Congressman Mark Neumann, and Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.[101]

The attacks on Thompson led to his defense and endorsement by former Arkansas governor, presidential candidate, and conservative media figure Mike Huckabee.[102]

ALEC member the American Chemistry Council spent nearly $650,000 in support of Thompson's bid for US Senate in the autumn of 2012. Thompson faced Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin in the general election. Although most polls from the spring through September showed Thompson ahead, he ultimately lost to Baldwin in the general election, taking 45.9 percent to Baldwin's 51.5 percent. Ultimately, Thompson could not overcome a combined 260,000-vote deficit in the state's two largest counties, Milwaukee and Dane – home to Milwaukee and Madison, respectively. It was the first time Thompson had lost a statewide election.[citation needed]

Political positions[edit]

During the 2012 campaign, Thompson, speaking to a Tea Party group, said, "who better than me, that's already finished one of the entitlement programs, to come up with programs that do away with Medicaid and Medicare?"[103] When a videotape of his remarks surfaced, Thompson stated that he did not want to eliminate Medicare, but instead wanted a system that would provide a subsidy to individuals to help them purchase private health insurance.[103]

Thompson favors making the Bush tax cuts permanent and adopting a 15 percent flat tax.[104]

Later years[edit]

University of Wisconsin System President[edit]

Thompson as UW System President at UW Oshkosh in March 2022.

In the fall of 2019, incumbent University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross announced his intention to retire. This kicked off a search by the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents to find his successor.[105] In what was seen as a flawed candidate search, complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin, the board initially was poised to offer the position to University of Alaska System President Jim Johnsen.[2] Johnsen was ultimately forced to withdraw amidst vocal opposition from University of Wisconsin System faculty and students.[106] A week later, after closed-door sessions, the board named Thompson as the interim president.[2] Thompson served nearly two years as interim president before announcing in January 2022 that he would step down, effective March 18, 2022.[107]

Issue One – Council for Responsible Social Media[edit]

In October 2022, Thompson joined the Council for Responsible Social Media project launched by Issue One to address the negative mental, civic, and public health impacts of social media in the United States co-chaired by former House Democratic Caucus Leader Dick Gephardt and former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey.[108][109]

Electoral history[edit]

Wisconsin Assembly (1966, 1968, 1970)[edit]

Wisconsin Assembly, Adams–Juneau–Marquette District Election, 1966[110]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican primary, September 13, 1966
Republican Tommy Thompson 2,697 56.67%
Republican Louis C. Romell (incumbent) 2,062 43.33% -8.16%
Plurality 635 13.34% +10.36%
Total votes 4,759 100.0% +11.69%
General Election, November 8, 1966
Republican Tommy Thompson 7,703 71.96% +18.42%
Democratic Stephen E. Baumgartner 3,002 28.04%
Plurality 4,701 43.91% +36.84%
Total votes 10,705 100.0% -24.54%
Republican hold
Wisconsin Assembly, Adams–Juneau–Marquette District Election, 1968[111]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
General Election, November 5, 1968
Republican Tommy Thompson (incumbent) 9,818 69.62% -2.34%
Democratic Leslie J. Schmidt 4,285 30.38%
Plurality 5,533 39.23% -4.68%
Total votes 14,103 100.0% +31.74%
Republican hold
Wisconsin Assembly, Adams–Juneau–Marquette District Election, 1970[112]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
General Election, November 5, 1968
Republican Tommy Thompson (incumbent) 7,294 65.69% -3.93%
Democratic Justin E. Tarvid 3,810 34.31%
Plurality 3,484 31.38% -7.86%
Total votes 11,104 100.0% -21.26%
Republican hold

Wisconsin Assembly (1972, 1974, 1976, 1978)[edit]

Wisconsin Assembly, 79th District Election, 1972[113]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
General Election, November 7, 1972
Republican Tommy Thompson 12,027 61.53%
Democratic Robert M. Thompson 7,519 38.47%
Plurality 4,508 23.06%
Total votes 19,546 100.0%
Republican win (new seat)
Wisconsin Assembly, 79th District Election, 1974[114]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
General Election, November 5, 1974
Republican Tommy Thompson (incumbent) 10,116 67.93% +6.40%
Democratic Daniel P. O'Connor 4,775 32.07%
Plurality 5,341 35.87% +12.80%
Total votes 14,891 100.0% -23.82%
Republican hold
Wisconsin Assembly, 79th District Election, 1976[115]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
General Election, November 2, 1976
Republican Tommy Thompson (incumbent) 14,549 67.96% +0.03%
Democratic Samuel O. Gratz 6,858 32.04%
Plurality 7,691 35.93% +0.06%
Total votes 21,407 100.0% +43.76%
Republican hold
Wisconsin Assembly, 79th District Election, 1978[116]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
General Election, November 7, 1978
Republican Tommy Thompson (incumbent) 12,136 76.49% +8.52%
Democratic George L. Lytle 3,731 23.51%
Plurality 8,405 52.97% +17.04%
Total votes 15,867 100.0% -25.88%
Republican hold

United States House of Representatives (1979)[edit]

Wisconsin's 6th Congressional District Special Election, 1979[116]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Special Republican primary, February 20, 1979
Republican Thomas Petri 22,293 35.25%
Republican Tommy Thompson 11,850 18.74%
Republican Jack D. Steinhilber 11,810 18.68%
Republican Kenneth Benson 10,965 17.34%
Republican Donald Jones 5,077 8.03%
Republican Richard Wright 844 1.33%
Republican John Gregory 395 0.62%
Plurality 10,443 30.59%
Total votes 63,234 100.0%

Wisconsin Assembly (1980, 1982, 1984)[edit]

Wisconsin Governor (1986, 1990, 1994, 1998)[edit]

Wisconsin Gubernatorial Election, 1986[117]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican primary, September 9, 1986
Republican Tommy Thompson 156,875 52.11%
Republican Jonathan B. Barry 67,114 22.30%
Republican George Watts 58,424 19.41%
Republican Albert Lee Wiley, Jr. 15,233 5.06%
Republican Joseph A. Ortiz 3,374 1.12%
Plurality 89,761 29.82%
Total votes 301,020 100.0%
General Election, November 4, 1986
Republican Tommy Thompson
Scott McCallum
805,090 52.74% +10.80%
Democratic Tony Earl (incumbent)
Sharon K. Metz
705,578 46.22% -10.53%
Labor–Farm Kathryn A. Christensen
John Ervin Bergum
10,323 0.68%
Independent Darold E. Wall
Irma L. Lotts
3,913 0.26%
Independent Sanford Knapp
Verdell Hallingstad
1,668 0.11%
Scattering 1 0.00%
Plurality 99,512 6.52% -8.30%
Total votes 1,526,573 100.0% -3.40%
Republican gain from Democratic Swing 21.33%
Wisconsin Gubernatorial Election, 1990[118]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican primary, September 11, 1990
Republican Tommy Thompson 201,467 92.68%
Republican Bennett A. Masel 11,230 5.17%
Republican Edmond C. Hou-Seye 4,665 2.15%
Republican Willie G. Lovelace 8 0.00%
Plurality 190,237 87.52%
Total votes 217,370 100.0% -27.79%
General Election, November 6, 1990
Republican Tommy Thompson (incumbent)
Scott McCallum
802,321 58.15% +5.41%
Democratic Thomas A. Loftus
Joseph Czarnezki
576,280 41.77% -4.45%
Scattering 1,126 0.08%
Plurality 226,041 16.38% +9.86%
Total votes 1,379,727 100.0% -9.62%
Republican hold
Wisconsin Gubernatorial Election, 1994[119]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
General Election, November 8, 1994
Republican Tommy Thompson (incumbent)
Scott McCallum
1,051,326 67.23% +9.08%
Democratic Charles Chvala
Dorothy K. Dean
482,850 30.88% -10.89%
Libertarian David S. Harmon
Kevin J. Robinson
11,639 0.74%
Constitution Edward J. Frami
Michael J. O'Hare
9,188 0.59%
Independent Michael J. Mangan 8,150 0.52%
Scattering 682 0.04%
Plurality 568,476 36.35% +19.97%
Total votes 1,563,835 100.0% +13.34%
Republican hold
Wisconsin Gubernatorial Election, 1998[120]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican primary, September 8, 1998
Republican Tommy Thompson (incumbent) 229,916 83.55%
Republican Jeffrey A. Hyslop 45,252 16.45%
Plurality 184,664 67.11%
Total votes 275,168 100.0%
General Election, November 3, 1998
Republican Tommy Thompson (incumbent)
Scott McCallum
1,047,716 59.66% -7.56%
Democratic Ed Garvey
Barbara Lawton
679,553 38.70% +7.82%
Libertarian Jeffrey L. Mueller
James Dean
11,071 0.63% -0.11%
Constitution Edward J. Frami
Thomas R. Rivers
10,269 0.58% -0.00%
Independent Michael J. Mangan 4,985 0.28% -0.24%
Independent A-Ja-mu Muhammad
Vida Harley Bridges
1,604 0.09%
Green Jeffrey L. Smith (write-in)
R. Smith
14 0.00%
Scattering 802 0.05%
Plurality 368,163 20.97% -15.39%
Total votes 1,756,014 100.0% +12.29%
Republican hold

United States Senate (2012)[edit]

United States Senate Election in Wisconsin, 2012
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican primary, August 14, 2012[121]
Republican Tommy Thompson 197,928 33.99%
Republican Eric Hovde 179,557 30.83%
Republican Mark Neumann 132,786 22.80%
Republican Jeff Fitzgerald 71,871 12.34%
Scattering 244 0.04%
Plurality 18,371 3.15%
Total votes 582,386 100.0% -5.89%
General Election, November 6, 2012[122]
Democratic Tammy Baldwin 1,547,104 51.41% -15.90%
Republican Tommy Thompson 1,380,126 45.86% +16.38%
Independent Joseph Kexel 62,240 2.07% N/A
Independent Nimrod Allen, III 16,455 0.55% N/A
Write-in 3,486 0.11% +0.05%
Total votes 3,009,411 100.00% N/A


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External links[edit]

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Wisconsin State Assembly
Preceded by Member of the Wisconsin State Assembly
from the Adams-Juneau-Marquette district

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Robert Lorge
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Wisconsin
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