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Platform Chairman: Tommy G. Thompson
Governor of Wisconsin

By Elizabeth A. Palmer
Congressional Quarterly

"Always a bridesmaid, never a bride," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson as saying after he was passed over for the vice presidential nomination in 1996.

Thompson this year once again found himself on the long list of vice presidential candidates for the GOP ticket. And he was chosen for a sensitive leadership role, that of platform chairman, by the Republicans' presumptive nominee, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

As chairman of the platform committee, Thompson must find a way to keep the party unified, even on difficult social issues that tend to rend it apart, such as abortion.

He is no stranger to controversy. As governor of Wisconsin for the past 13 years, Thompson has been at the center of several passionate battles on social issues. He was elected in 1986 and has been re-elected three times, most recently in 1998.

Thompson proudly touts his overhaul of the state welfare system as one of his most important accomplishments. His was the first state to end the entitlement for welfare programs. Thompson has beefed up spending for programs designed to move people from welfare to work, such as child care and training. While conservatives hail his achievements in reducing the welfare roles in Wisconsin, critics have condemned his overhaul as radical.

Many of his ideas were central to the overhaul of the federal welfare system passed by the Republican Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996. Wisconsin, under Thompson's leadership, was also one of the first states to experiment with school vouchers. In 1990, the state began giving low-income Milwaukee families the choice of sending their children to private or public schools. By 1995, the state expanded that to include religious schools. The voucher program, which was challenged by opponents as unconstitutional, survived a ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review.

Thompson, 58, has spent most of his life in public service. He was 25 when he first won a seat in the Wisconsin legislature, defeating an incumbent in the 1966 election. He rose to assistant assembly minority leader in 1973 and assembly minority leader in 1981.

The governor came from the small town of Elroy, Wis. During his years in the assembly, he garnered a reputation as a go-slow lawmaker, at odds with his later activism as governor.

Governing Magazine said Thompson was known as "Dr. No," for his opposition to most Democratic proposals. "When he switched to the executive branch, he changed, becoming an activist who believes in using government to accomplish social goals," the magazine wrote in a 1997 profile.

Thompson, who is pictured on his Internet home page posing on a motorcycle, is married to Sue Ann Thompson, an elementary school teacher. The couple has three children.

See also: Post Profile

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

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