One opens the newspaper or logs on to a favorite Wisconsin news site, and it’s as if the 1990s have returned. Will the Packers be able to make a Super Bowl reappearance? Is our Democratic president still relevant? And what about Tommy Thompson and Mark Neumann running for the U.S. Senate?
Former Gov. Thompson and former U.S. Rep. Neumann are the early favorites merely because of name recognition for the Republican nomination for Senate to replace U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl.
Neumann briefly was a conservative star during the 1990s, when he upset U.S. Rep. Peter Barca in the 1994 GOP tide and narrowly lost to U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold in 1998. His star dimmed considerably in losing to Scott Walker in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial race, and he appears to have picked up, or possibly asked the Wisconsin Club for Growth to pick up, where he left off in attacking Thompson, the longest serving governor in Wisconsin history.
Which got the attention of Thompson’s former Department of Administration secretary, James Klauser, who according to WTMJ’s Charlie Sykes wrote:
You appear to be poised to run for the US Senate seat from Wisconsin. Sadly you seem to be reverting to the same negative approach you have taken in other campaigns.
While I initially was encouraged by your gubernatorial campaign, I withdrew my support for your candidacy because you were trashing, actually lying, about Scott Walker’s record as county executive. You were telling people that Scott was responsible for tax increases in Milwaukee County. That was rather bald faced.
Now, you and your ally, a right wing Washington DC political group is doing the same…trashing, lying, about Tommy Thompson’s record. I understand that several of your former employees are well placed at the “Club”. Evidentially they don’t understand any better than you do Ronald Reagan’s commandment.
Tommy Thompson’s record is really incredible, particularly since for the most part he had a Democrat controlled legislature:
Tommy’s first budget substantially lowered income tax rates. (Doyle later rescinded that action). He did that 3 times. Tommy cut all taxes 91 times saving taxpayers more than $16.4 billion dollars since 1987. 1900 vetoes; none overridden. Remember the Veto pencil?
Tommy eliminated welfare as we know it. (Doyle and the dems have managed to reinstate some parts.) This set the stage for national action.
Tommy signed into law the first school voucher/charter school reform. Now the choice program is the largest in the country.
Tommy instituted the property tax controls, including the QEO, which have materially controlled property tax increases. (Doyle and the dems got rid of the QEO and weakened the caps.) In 1995 Tommy returned $1.2 billion dollars to local property tax payers to lower the burden of property taxes.
Tommy eliminated the inheritance tax and gift tax in 1987…
Tommy instituted an aggressive economic development program. During his tenure 740,000 jobs were created. Wisconsin worked and felt good again.
Some are critical about some of his DC accomplishments, particularly criticizing his role with Obamacare.
Tommy has told me that he was attempting to work to develop a solution to one of our country’s greatest problems. When the Obama administration went in their socialist direction he walked away from it. He told me that he would vote today, were he in the Senate, to repeal Obamacare. You may have forgotten that Tommy proposed a private sector approach as governor in 1995. It was lost due to the controversies over Hillarycare.
This is just a small listing of what Tommy has DONE; not talked about but DONE. Certainly you can pick apart his record and find something to quarrel with. However anyone who says he is not conservative is at best ignorant or an ersatz conservative, ersatz republican.
Something else distinguishes Tommy from the rest of the field, including you. He has been elected statewide four times (You lost twice didn’t you?) He knows how to put a campaign together; he knows what it takes.
First, this demonstrates that, in contrast to what some political observers think, the Republican Party is not a one-size-fits-all monolith. There is some validity in every comment you’ll read on this blog, because the truth is that Neumann’s, or the Club for Growth’s, version of Thompson’s record and Klauser’s version of Thompson’s record are not incompatible.
Thompson did not cut state government noticeably when he was in office. (It will be hard for Thompson to argue for a federal balanced-budget amendment when Thompson never supported a state Taxpayer Bill of Rights.) Which bothered voters very little since he was elected governor four times. The economy of the 1990s was such that Thompson could cut taxes and grow government and make all but the most partisan Democrats at least not unhappy. Regardless of the campaign rhetoric, voters do expect the people they vote for to accomplish something while in office, and Thompson accomplished a lot, even if most of his accomplishments were in growing, rather than shrinking, government.
Neumann’s business record is something elective office needs more of, as one of Sykes’ blog commentors points out:
Unfortunately conservative business man Mark Neumann has been targeted as some kind of bogey man just for pointing out career politicians records. Mr. Neumann’s record shows success in the public and private sector including balanced Federal budgets in the 1990s before big spending career politician rhinos destroyed the party with reckless spending in the 00s – especially the Bush Administration and career politician Tommy Thompson was his HSA secretary.
Unfortunately, other aspects of Neumann are something our politics needs less of, as noted by one of Sykes’ Facebook commentators:
Why is it EVERY race involving Neumann is ALWAYS so darn dirty? Can’t he win on merits instead of dirt? Taking the high road would only benefit Wisconsin …..and BOTH camps should do that!
Another Facebook commentator channels his inner Mercutio:
Tommy is a RINO, and after last year, it’s clear Neumann is motivated by an inflated ego and not ideology.
As does Boots and Sabers:
I will not vote for Neumann. Period. His primary campaign last year was disgusting and dishonest. Even if he makes it to the general election, I will write someone else in.
As many of you know, I’m not a fan of TOMMY! I appreciate his great record on welfare, school choice, and promoting Wisconsin, but he is an old-school big-spending Republican. His flirtations with Obamacare, rampant spending as governor, and many other things make him a candidate who I wouldn’t support. If he makes it to the general election, I’ll hold my nose and vote for him, but I’m not going to be happy about it.
WTAQ radio’s Jerry Bader adds:
If this boils down to a Thompson/Neumann fight, it’s going to be VERY ugly. Neumann showed what he was willing to do to win vs. Scott Walker. It got very ugly before he decided to clean up his image for this senate run. There is bad blood between Neumann and the Thompson camp, most notably in the persona of Jim Klauser. Team Thompson may not be what it was 20 years ago, but it still knows a thing or two about political street fights. Whoever emerges from this battle could be very bloodied.
The good news is whoever emerges from this fight, regardless of how bloodied, should have an excellent chance in November 2012. … Tommy has a lot of vulnerabilities, but if Mark Neumann hauls out the brass knuckles again Tommy is like to be able to take the high road to nomination, even though he is left of mainstream conservatism today.
You may recall that the last time we had Nasty vs. Nasty in a U.S. Senate primary race was in 1992, when U.S. Rep. James Moody (D–Milwaukee) and Democratic activist Joseph Checota tried to beat the stuffing out of each other so much that few people noticed an underfinanced, yet seemingly more personable, state senator named Russ Feingold. To the surprise of the experts, Feingold won the three-way Democratic primary that year, and then went on to end U.S. Sen. Bob Kasten’s Senate career.
The other thing Republicans may be looking for is Ron Johnson 2.0 — someone who is much more of an outsider than Thompson (business experience preferable), yet is more voter- and media-friendly than Neumann. (As a GOP activist told me, to succeed in politics you need to be a people person, but, she said, Neumann is not.)
The imperative for Republicans, of course, is to find the candidate most likely to win in November 2012. President Obama’s sinking approval ratings, Wisconsin’s open Senate seat and the fact that Democratic Senate winners from 2006 will have to defend their seats should make 2012 a good year for Republicans. (And the presumed Democratic front-runner for Kohl’s seat, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D–Madison), is a self-described socialist whose, uh, personal life might rub socially conservative voters the wrong way. Leave it to Wisconsin Dumocrats to nominate Baldwin instead of the much more electable U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D–La Crosse).) But in the same way that no Republican presidential candidate is currently leading a poll against Obama except Mr. Generic, Republicans are certainly capable of underperforming next year.