2009/05/02:Capital Times: Can Republicans spell tomorrow without 'Tommy!'? - One Wisconsin Now

Can Republicans spell tomorrow without 'Tommy!'?
Wisconsin State Journal
SAT., MAY 2, 2009 - 12:16 PM

Almost as regularly as divorce enters the lives of the nine-time married trio of GOP leaders Limbaugh, Gingrich and Giuliani, is the springtime muttering from "Tommy!" Thompson to maybe, possibly, think about finally taking on long-time nemesis, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

Milwaukee television was this year's chosen conduit, reporting less than 48 hours before the weekend's annual GOP state convention in La Crosse that "Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson is considering a run for Wisconsin governor. Thompson told 12 News that he's currently looking for other candidates to step up before he throws his hat in the ring."

No doubt this was welcome news to potential nominees Scott Walker and Mark Neumann, as it was in 2006 when Thompson did it in the midst of the primary snorefest between Walker and Mark Green.

Thompson's choir will say this is about his disdain for the ineffectiveness of Doyle. The choir will also fail to note Doyle had to clean up after the 16-year mess created by reckless East Wing spending by the GOP, such as increasing the annual corrections budget from $186 million to more than $1 billion.

But looking at the way this tragicomedy has played out in the past, it is increasingly clear this is not about Thompson's problem with Doyle. It is more about the state's former top cheerleader putting up roadblocks to any potential GOP gubernatorial successor.

Since 2000, in five different years during the state's GOP convention, "Tommy!" managed to get the "I may run" story to pop, making Thompson -- and not the endless speeches pledging fealty to the Bush administration -- the convention lead story.

Here's the "Tommy!" timeline:

• 2000: "Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson said Saturday that he may consider running for a fifth term if he sees evidence that Democratic Attorney General Jim Doyle stands a good chance of being elected governor in 2002."
- Green Bay Press Gazette, 6/11/00

• 2001-02: Thompson began in 2001 as Health and Human Services Secretary and made no noise about running again, spending time growing his rolodex to do lucrative private sector work, preparing to deceive Americans about the true cost of the coming unfunded $8 trillion Medicare Part D disaster and snapping a motivational locker room towel at our chubby children.

• 2003: "Former Gov. Tommy Thompson gave delegates at the state Republican Party convention what they craved: criticism of sitting Gov. Jim Doyle and a promise he'll return home to Wisconsin one day to run for public office. (But Thompson said Saturday that chances were 'slim to none' he would challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold in next year's election.)"
- Associated Press, 5/11/03

• 2004: "Wisconsin's former governor said Saturday there is a "possibility" he'll run for governor again."
- La Crosse Tribune, 5/23/04

• 2006: "Former Gov. Tommy Thompson says he believes if he were to seek the Republican nomination for governor, he would be certain to win in November over incumbent Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. 'If I run, I win,' Thompson said Thursday in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, reported from its Washington, D.C., office. 'I have no doubt in my mind about that. But then I have to govern.'"
- Associated Press, 5/12/06

• 2007: Thompson was in the midst of his brief presidential run and at the time was making news for saying that employers should be able to fire gay people -- an illegal act for an employer in Wisconsin, and for saying that raising money was "part of the Jewish tradition." No potential run against Gov. Doyle was inferred.

• 2009: WISN-TV reported Wednesday that Thompson "is considering a run."

The cringe-inducing, once-effective-but-played-a-season-too-long morality play is as applicable to politics as it is to athletics. Watching it can bring pain or schadenfreude.

For Republicans desperate to earn relevancy back into the decision-making process at our state and federal levels, the potential candidacy of a former Bush lieutenant first elected 43 years ago, may not be the tonic needed to breathe new life into the Grand Old Party.

Ross is executive director of One Wisconsin Now, a progressive political advocacy group.