Poor Wisconsin. Your heart must really be breaking, and right after Valentine’s Day, too. How tragic! First, just when you thought your star quarterback (“We’ll never forget you, Brent!”) was done dragging your heart around, he announced that no, he wouldn’t retire; he would instead join another state’s football team. And now that the cheesehead state has finally started to heal from this nearly unbearable loss, another old crony might be back to toy with our hearts. And that someone is none other than — drum roll please –former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.
Here we had thought Tommy had sold his soul to federal government, corporate interests and private-sector paychecks! Rumor has it T-squared is apparently considering competing with Senator Russ Feingold for the latter’s seat in the upcoming Senate race.
I just want to take this opportunity to rain on the post-V-day parade, and say this is not a healthy relationship and should not be supported.
To make this therapy session productive and reflective, let’s have a look at some of the reasons why we should not get back together with the old Double T (Sorry, the possibilities for nicknames are endless). Let’s start with Tommy’s pride and joy: welfare reform. Thompson’s famous Wisconsin Works (also known as W-2) program, which was supposed to provide more employment opportunities and help more of Wisconsin’s poor become more financially independent, did not work out so well. According to a 2005 report from the Legislative Audit Bureau, the majority of former participants in Thompson’s W-2 programs did not find jobs that paid above the poverty line. Also, over 40 percent of those leaving the program found jobs with temporary employment agencies, rather than more dependable permanent employment. I don’t mean to sound negative, but the creator of that legacy may not be the best person to help steer us out of a struggling economy.
Furthermore, the proportion of participants returning to welfare programs increased from 38.6 percent in 2000 to 52.3 percent in 2004, indicating that W-2 actually caused a decrease in recipients’ ability to support themselves. My personal favorite here is the fact that those who wanted to receive W-2 benefits had to leave higher education — if they were enrolled at the time — in order to be eligible for the program. That smacks a little bit of class stratification.
Additionally, Thompson has not made an effort to ensure his corporate ties are entirely divorced from his policies. For instance, the former governor’s plan to reform Medicaid a few years ago included some potential bonuses for the companies he was employed with. For example, Thompson touted the benefits and necessity of electronic records, holding for Verichip Corporation, a company in which Thompson was a co-owner and major stakeholder and which produces data chips with medical information that can be embedded in the skin. At the time, Thompson was also chairman of The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, a consulting company that had an agreement to work with states to revamp their medical programs.
And let’s not forget the biggie (in more ways than one): spending. While he poured money into his welfare and Medicare plans and cut taxes for the wealthy, TT left Wisconsin with a $3.5 million deficit.
For the record, despite all you may think about Feingold, he has made a sincere and bipartisan effort to reduce the deficit and curb wasteful “pork barrel” spending. His recently introduced Control Spending Now Act proposes cuts to multiple earmarks and calls for a decrease in subsidies for exporters, high-income individuals and gas and oil companies.
While someone will undoubtedly accuse me of engaging in yet another whiny liberal defense of Feingold, that’s really not the point. In fact, Feingold also supports the line-item veto that Thompson had so much fun with (so much, in fact, that he started changing individual letters to make different words –sweet game of Scrabble, Tommy).
The real issue is that Tommy Boy has been out of touch with Wisconsin and its residents for years (and there’s nothing the GOP disapproves of more than an “elitist insider,” right?) Plus, his past moves, both during and after his term as governor, have been more than a little questionable.
I know I am not the first to make this comparison, but Thompson really does seem to be the new Brett Favre, with his four gubernatorial terms, Health and Human Services stint and now this potential Senate campaign. Aren’t you tired, Tommy? Because some of us sure are. So why don’t you do us all a “favre,” and sit this one out.
Hannah Shtein ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in philosophy.