University of Wisconsin-Madison College Republicans hosted Wisconsin’s longest-serving governor Tommy Thompson to answer students’ questions Tuesday night.
Thompson recounted his days in the office, where the rivalry between political parties was evident. He served as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration from 2001-05, where he realized the importance of bipartisanship.
The current political climate has too much hatred on both sides, Thompson said. He added that this hate is unproductive in getting policies changed.
Thompson also commented on the current political system and said while serving as a governor, he enjoyed going around and talking to people to expand his bipartisan connections.
Due to social media and social networking, individuals are not getting to know each other as people, so there is no “give and take” when it comes to policy, Thompson said.
“What’s happening today is you don’t have that discourse,” Thompson said. “You have a feeling, and you have more money in the system.”
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During his time as governor, Thompson built many prisons. In a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article from 2018, he said this was one of his biggest regrets as the current overpopulation of prisons is in part caused by those initiatives to build prisons in the 1990s.
Now, he’s pushing to create more rehabilitative programs, like vocational schools.
Thompson said the prison system in Wisconsin needs to be reformed to better assist prisoners to adjust back to society. He said educational institutions and businesses both have important roles to play in this reform.
“I really believe that a good share of the prisoners don’t have to be there,” Thompson said.
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One of Thompson’s goals is to get the university, vocational schools and others to set up courses for former prisoner’s to develop skills and prevent recidivism.
Thompson said he wants to make sure prisoners have access to drug and alcohol counseling since many prisoners struggle with addiction. Additionally, he said education — from elementary school to higher education — needs to be addressed and improved.
“This is my new cause, so I hope I can get young Republicans to support me on that,” Thompson said. “This is not a Republican idea, this is out there a little bit — probably farther out than where even Democrats want to go — but it’s the right one and I think if you stop and analyze it, it makes a lot of sense.”