Tommy Thompson weighs in on run for governor, reflects on UW System

NOW: Tommy Thompson weighs in on run for governor, reflects on UW System

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – The future leader of the UW System is up for grabs now that Interim President Tommy Thompson announced he’s stepping down in March.

Now some are wondering what Thompson, who turned 80 in November, might do next.

During an interview with CBS 58, Thompson said he’s leaving his options open whether to run for higher office or do something completely different.

“Would you ever consider running for governor?” CBS 58 reporter Emilee Fannon asked.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of individuals who suggest what I do. I’ll take a look at it and listen to them,” Thompson said. “I said I’m going to wait until April, look around and see what I really want to do.”

The former Republican governor, and longest-serving in state history, was first elected in 1986. After winning reelection three times, he left in 2001 to become the Department of Health and Human Services secretary under President George W. Bush.

Thompson said he will discuss his future with his family first, then decide what role to tackle next.

“Right now, there’s nothing on the horizon that I’ve decided on that I’m even looking at,” Thompson said.

If Thompson were to enter the governor race, that would result in a competitive Republican primary.

Former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch is currently the GOP frontrunner seeking a bid for governor against Democratic incumbent Governor Tony Evers.

Kevin Nicholson, a Marine veteran, has also expressed intertest in entering the race as a Republican.

Reflecting on the UW System

While the search continues for the next president of the UW System, Thompson said he stills has some priorities he wants to get done before his departure on March 18.

Some include reciprocity with other universities, building a new engineering building on the UW-Madison campus, and launching programs to increase the number of teachers and nurses in the state.

“We got 100 things accomplished since I started. I got 16 more to go I got to get done by March. I intend to do that,” Thompson said.

In July 2020, Thompson took on the role at UW with enthusiasm and energy to get things done while concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic lingered.

His biggest accomplishment was reopening campuses for in-person learning, Thompson said, after the pandemic forced classes to be temporarily held online.

Now, the state is battling a new COVID-19 surge that’s overwhelming hospitals as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads rapidly. Thompson said while the current situation is unsettling, he has no plans to shift classes online when students return this semester.

“I would not be so adamant of opening up if I didn’t think we could be safe,” he said. “Just keep expanding testing, vaccination, masking and allow the students to participate in class.”

Thompson fought to have control over COVID-19 policies on campus after some Republican lawmakers claimed campuses needed their permission to implement mitigation efforts.

He stood up against those in his own party who have resisted coronavirus protocols, such as masking and vaccinations, to prevent the spread.

Having a relationship with the GOP-controlled Legislature, despite disagreements, is one piece of advice Thompson has for his successor.

“You have to go over to the Capitol and spend time to meet the legislators,” he said. “You need to tell them we're the economic engine, the education engine, and we're the problem solvers where the institution can make Wisconsin better.”

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