Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson is perhaps best known nationally as an early pioneer of welfare reform, or in his own words, “ending welfare” by requiring recipients to work. About 96 percent of state residents receiving welfare in 1996 are no longer on the rolls. He also ended the policy of increasing benefits as recipients have additional children. A strong opponent of abortion, Thompson pledged today to be “a pro-life” Secretary of Health.
As Governor he initiated sweeping tax cuts, including a $1.2 billion property tax cut — the largest in the state’s history. He initiated in 1990 the first parental school voucher program in the nation. In 1995, the governor expanded the program to include religious schools.
He has consistently advocated stronger punishment for crime, abolishing mandatory parole, and allowing children as young as 10 to be tried as adults. During his tenure he doubled the state’s prison capacity and initiated construction of “Super Max” prisons for the most violent offenders.
Thompson, 59, holds a law degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and served in the state’s National Guard and Army Reserve. Also trained as a real estate broker, Thompson was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1966 where he later served as Minority Leader. He was elected Governor in 1986 and was reelected to three more terms.
Thompson also served as chairman of the National Governors’ Association, the Republican Governors’ Association and the Education Commission of the States. He is currently chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors and of the Council of State Governments.