Former Wisconsin Tommy Thompson had already announced on ABC-TV’s “This Week” program on Sunday that he was formally declaring as a Republican candidate for President of the U.S.
As a result, the faithful and those who felt obligated to attend the first Wisconsin declaration by Thompson April 4 at Bishop Messmer High School in Milwaukee already knew that he was in. Nevertheless, the affection and pride for Tommy was great. There were at least 1,000 in attendance, more than half of which were students at Messmer and the allied Catholic elementary schools. Media trucks lined up outside Messmer beamed the images all across the state.
Fitting for a former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy spent much of his half-hour speech talking about health and health insurance issues. His Iraq plan will be stolen by candidates in both parties. It is a far better plan than Sen. Joe Biden’s forced Iraq partition plan, for example.
It starts with an Iraqi referendum on American presence. “If they say yes, we have a mandate to stay. If they say no, we will bring the troops home.” Second is election of state-like governors in the 18 Iraqi provinces. “Sunnis will elect Sunnis, Shiites will elect Shiites, Kurds will elect Kurds,” he said. Iraqi people will gravitate to provinces headed by leaders they trust. Third, give everyone a stake in the oil revenue: 1/3 to the federal government, 1/3 to the provinces and 1/3 to “every man, woman and child in Iraq,” similar to the Alaskan Dividend Plan which distributes a share of oil revenue in that state, so that Iraqis will hold their government leaders accountable.
Messmer was an obvious choice, both literally and figuratively. The school has prospered under Milwaukee’s schools of choice plan, which Thompson championed. The student body is mostly black and both the elementary students and high school students wear uniforms. High school attendance is 98 percent. About 90% of Messmer graduates attend college. The high school junior who sat next to me said he intends to attend UW- Madison and become a dermatologist. The gym where we sat is newer than most of the school and is named the Tommy G. Thompson Athletic Center.
Tommy, naturally, praised the school as an example of what No Child Left Behind really means and as President, there will be a thousand Messmers across the country.
Thompson flew to events in Iowa and New Hampshire later in the day. His strategy is to win Iowa to show legitimacy and to raise money from many sources. So far, Tommy has raised money from his long-time supporters.
Later that day, I heard former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speak at Monona Terrace in Madison. He was the final speaker on the Business Day in Madison, an annual production of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state business advocacy group.
Gingrich’s audience couldn’t have been more different than Thompson’s. Many people wore suits and there were no black faces. There were about 500 in the crowd, including several who have already given the maximum contribution to Thompson.
Although Gingrich’s speech was billed as “Saving Lives and Saving Money” as founder of the Center for Health Transformation, his hour-long speech was vintage Newt the visionary and policy critic. Only Gingrich could tie models of explosions of knowledge and technology with bureaucratic intransigence by government and health insurers, calling on them to offer health savings accounts and incentives for wellness.
Scientists say knowledge will grow 10 or 20 times in the next 25 years, so much that we might as well be living in the age of Sir Isaac Newton, he said. In his speech, Gingrich tied together innovations in technology in on-line overnight package delivery monitoring with the failure of the government to track undocumented workers and it would be cheaper for the government to send FedEx packages to all illegal aliens to conclude some states are paying a lot for poor health outcomes.
He likened the critics of the range of choice of Medicare Part D to private plans and opportunities for seniors to save money on prescriptions drugs to a Medicare cruise, on which all choices of cabins cost the same or a Wal-Mart where only people under 65 can gain admittance even if they work there.
Gingrich was lavish in his praise for Tommy as Governor and presidential candidate, calling him an innovator and a reform Governor, as important as Mike Leavitt in Utah and John Engler in Michigan. It was interesting that he cited Leavitt, who is Tommy’s successor as Secretary of Health and Human Services. No one mentioned Leavitt’s decision that very day to not grant a continued waiver for Wisconsin’s SeniorCare prescription drug benefit.
Gingrich is a conglomerate. He writes books which are variously manifestos and leadership studies. He has a 527 PAC called American Solutions for Winning the Future and mentioned the scheduled workshops on September 27, the 30th Anniversary of the Contract with America. He is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He created the Center for Health Transformation and Gingrich Communications. All maintain separate offices in Washington, Atlanta and Miami. They schedule Gingrich but Gingrich has always been a one-man band. If his speech is any indication, he doesn’t separate those organizations in his own mind.
A number of the people who have already declared for President are not acceptable to conservative activists. Newt is, and even undeclared he nevertheless finishes high on straw polls. Gingrich says he will make a decision about candidacy on September 30. It also is why many support a Fred Thompson candidacy. Some wags have called for a Thompson-Thompson ticket, with Fred and Tommy. It is clear that Wisconsin prefers Tommy to be at the head of the ticket.