Tommy honored by UW

Political Beat

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson will get an honorary degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is being cited for his dedication to the university and the Wisconsin Idea.

Thompson’s life is both a Horatio Alger-type story and a love affair with the university. He grew up a grocer’s son in Elroy, got bachelor and law degrees at the Madison campus, and entered a successful career in politics.

Thompson worked as a campus-area bartender to help pay college tuition.

He first ran for the Assembly in 1966, winning an upset victory in the Republican primary. He would serve in the Assembly for 20 years before winning his first of four terms as governor. He would later take a cabinet job under President George W. Bush. Republicans brought him back to the political ring in 2012 as their candidate for the U.S. Senate. He would lose that race to Democrat Tammy Baldwin.

But the University of Wisconsin remains Thompson’s love. He says the research gains there will spur economic growth in all parts of the state. As governor, Thompson provided extra state funding for the Madison campus to promote biotechnology and medical research.

Sixteen years ago, Gov. Thompson came to deliver his annual State of the State message to the Legislature with a test tube of DNA strands in his hand. He called it “the face of the future.”

Thompson continued to play the university champion even after he was gone from the state political scene.

“Going to a university transforms you. The stimulus, the intellectual capacity that you interact with – it makes you a whole different person,” Thompson said. “It gives you the opportunity and the ability to do just about anything.”

-Matt Pommer is the “dean” of Capitol correspondents in Madison. His column is published with permission from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, but does not reflect the view or opinions of the WNA or its member newspapers.

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