I admit it. I like Tommy Thompson.
I know I'm not supposed to. As a card-carrying Madison liberal, I'm supposed to despise everything GOP, especially these days. But the truth is that Tommy's record shows that he didn't hate government, and he found a way to work with the Democrats who held majorities during most of the time that he served as governor. Frankly, he out-maneuvered us a lot of the time.
Because I recognized his ability to work across the aisle, I called him up out of the blue a year ago and asked him to serve as a go-between with the Walker transition team in a last ditch effort to save high-speed rail. (To refresh your memories, Governor Jim Doyle had secured a 100% federally funded passenger rail line between Milwaukee and Madison, a crucial link on the eventual Chicago to Minneapolis route. Scott Walker had vowed to give the feds back their $810 million.) He agreed, and for about a month we worked together to see if we could find a way out. Thompson used his contacts in Washington (he and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood were old friends) and with the incoming administration to try to broker a deal.
Obviously, it didn't work out. But I thought the former governor showed himself a statesman, and I came away with renewed respect for him.
Now that he's running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Herb Kohl, he'll go up against our own Tammy Baldwin -- if he can win the GOP nomination. This isn't a given. The Republicans have taken a hard turn for the crazy since Tommy left office.
I'm already supporting Tammy. There was no question I would. Her progressive credentials are flawless and she's one of the most decent human beings I've ever encountered in politics or out. I want her to win.
But if Tommy Thompson is the GOP nominee, there's at least a chance that we could have a spirited and civil debate on the issues. We'd have two candidates who are well-seasoned and, if the ex-governor can stand up to the far right in his own party, two candidates who believe that government can be part of the solution to problems in our society.
I think most of us are getting tired of the rancor and the scorched earth tactics. I'm probably being too optimistic, but maybe this can be one race where more light is generated than heat.