What do you do?

From 1987 to 2001, Tommy Thompson served as the 42nd Governor of Wisconsin, having been elected to an unprecedented four terms. Thompson's initiatives during his 13 years as governor of Wisconsin included his Wisconsin Works welfare reform program and school choice program, which allowed low-income Milwaukee families to send children to the private or public school of their choice at taxpayer expense. He also created the BadgerCare program, designed to provide health coverage to those families whose employers don't provide health insurance but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Through the federal waiver program, Thompson helped replicate this program in several states when he was appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services by President George W. H. Bush in 2001, a position he would hold for four years. Thompson began his career in public service in 1966 as a representative in Wisconsin's state Assembly. He was elected assistant Assembly minority leader in 1973 and Assembly minority leader in 1981. Thompson has received numerous awards for his public service, including the Anti-Defamation League's Distinguished Public Service Award. In 1997, he received Governing Magazine's Public Official of the Year Award, and the Horatio Alger Award in 1998. Thompson has also served as chairman of the National Governors' Association, the Education Commission of the States and the Midwestern Governors' Conference. Thompson also served in the Wisconsin National Guard and the Army Reserve. Currently, he is an independent senior advisor of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions and a partner at the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: What do you do?

Tommy Thompson: Well there are certain things, you know, that I live by. I first believe that you are elected by the people, and that you elected by all the people even though they all didn’t vote for you; and that you represent all the people. So no matter if you were my biggest opponent or biggest enemy, if you had a problem I was . . . I felt I was responsible of helping you solve that problem. And secondly, answer every telephone.Third, answer every letter. And most individuals in elected office don’t do that anymore. These are the kind of things that I was really, really very much involved in. I wanted people to understand that I expected them to write, and they expected that if they write to me, they should have a response. And if they call me, they definitely need to hear back from me. And so I was very open and requested that. And I also believe very much that a legislator or a governor should spend his time out amongst the people. I always got my best ideas from people. And you know, I’d be talking to people and something would click. I’d hear a problem and see a problem and wanna do it.Fourth, I always felt, you know, that people that really didn’t have much deserved the most of my time and support. And so I loved going into areas where people were really hard up and needed a lot of help. And I felt, you know, I could really bring, you know, some happiness to them if I was able to do something for them. And these are the kind of basic principles I lived by when I was elected, and I did the same thing when I was State Legislator, and when I was Governor, and when I was Secretary. When I was state legislator, I went to every community every single year in my state assembly district and met with the people whenever they wanted to. My wife, of course, had difficulties with that in having a young family. But then when governor, I did something that no other governor ever did. And now most governors follow through on something I started. I moved the government out of Madison – which is the capital city – to college towns and set up my whole Cabinet in college dormitories every single year . . . probably twice a year. So I forced my Cabinet officials to live in college dorms for a week! And then we went around that particular area all over the state of Wisconsin. People loved it! The Cabinet officials at the beginning thought it was pretty hokey, but they learned to like it! And then we were able to have a bonding. And the Cabinet officials really learned a great deal from each other and learned how to work together. So they were a much more efficient, effective Cabinet for me and for the people of the state of Wisconsin. And we learned the problems all over the state just weren’t isolated to what was brought to us in Madison. We went out and found things. And the other thing is when I was Secretary I did the same thing at Health and Human Services. I went out, and there were several divisions in the Department of Health and Human Services. I went out into each division and ran that division as the Division Head for a week at a time in every division. And no Secretary has ever done that before. No Secretary has done that since. But it really got me a . . . a learning experience about what was happening. And it made me a better Governor and a better Secretary. And that’s what . . . something that I like to tell people because I brought an opportunity for people to become close to me and bring me their problems. Because I want people, when I’m out there, to come to me with their ideas, and how they figure they can help me do a better job of running that particular agency.

Recorded on: 7/6/07

 

 


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