In the shadow of the Capitol Thursday morning, Tomah mayor Ed Thompson announced his candidacy for governor, the job his brother held just over a year ago.
Thompson, brother to former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, is seeking to restore a “common-sense” approach to state government by running for governor as a Libertarian.
“My approach to government will be different … just plain common sense,” Thompson said Thursday morning. “Simply put, if you can’t afford it, don’t do it.”
Thompson attributes his move from the Republican Party to Libertarianism to a 1997 incident, when law enforcement officials raided his and 42 other Tomah-area taverns accused of operating video poker machines.
After witnessing the ability of government agents to inhibit civil liberties, Thompson decided to become politically active.
Thompson was elected mayor of Tomah, a city of 8,400, in April 2000 after defeating a two-term incumbent. As mayor, Thompson has overseen the city’s reduction of a $4 million debt without a tax increase.
“I started my first business in Elroy when I was 24 years old,” Thompson said. “I’ve been living by a budget ever since.”
In addition to instilling greater fiscal responsibility in the Wisconsin statehouse, Thompson wants to reform Wisconsin’s education and criminal justice systems. As Tomah’s mayor, Thompson, also a former prison guard, advocated a work-release program for nonviolent prisoners in an effort to cut costs and improve prison climate.
“The most basic, fundamental purpose of government is to protect its citizens,” Thompson said. “Violent people who harm others intentionally belong locked up for a long time. However, nonviolent people do not belong in prisons. When you mix violent people with nonviolent people, bad things happen.”
Thompson also said he supports education system decentralization and feels schools must add a fourth “R”, respect, to the traditional three.
“It’s high time we sent control of the schools back to local school systems and parents,” Thompson said.
Thompson will also seek the decriminalization of marijuana for medical as well as non-medical purposes.
In addition to serving as Tomah’s mayor, Thompson owns and operates Mr. Ed’s Tee Pee Supper Club. A Vietnam veteran who left UW-Madison prior to graduation to enlist in the Navy, Thompson worked in many blue-collar capacities before settling in Tomah in 1990.
Now, facing a stern test as a third-party candidate in next year’s gubernatorial election against incumbent Scott McCallum, U.S. Representative Tom Barrett, D-Milwaukee, and state Attorney General Jim Doyle, Thompson said he looks forward to the challenge.
“I’m a fighter. I’ve been in the ring many, many times as a boxer,” he said. “And there’s nothing I like better than a good fight, and this is the best fight of my life and I plan on winning it.”
In assessing Thompson’s chances for governor, UW-Madison political science professor Donald Downs said Thompson would not be successful.
“Libertarians have an interesting viewpoint but lack political clout on the state level I don’t believe name recognition is enough on its own,” Downs said.