Wineke: Tommy’s second chance is good for Wisconsin

Thompson sees Trump as winner, Cruz as loser at convention
Tommy Thompson

The University of Wisconsin System says it is hiring former Gov. Tommy Thompson as its interim system president.

That’s the first good news I’ve heard coming from the UW System in quite a while.

For one thing, it takes Tommy out of partisan politics, thus sparing those of us who admire him the prospect of seeing him endorse Donald Trump for a second time.

More importantly, Tommy will be a good president for the UW System. He isn’t an educator but he is a politician and he knows how to cajole the politicians who underwrite budgets.

He and I are the same age, 78, and we were undergraduate classmates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I have disagreed with him on pretty much every issue for almost 60 years but I’ve usually respected him more than I have most Republicans or Democrats.

Here’s what I know about Tommy Thompson – and here’s what almost everyone who has ever met him knows: There is no one on earth who has a greater love for Wisconsin or for the University of Wisconsin than Tommy does.

I trust him on that.

Tommy and I have some things in common. We each came from small towns, Tommy from Elroy and I from Verona (which had about 2,000 residents at the time). We were hicks who, somehow, found our footing on that vast Madison campus.

In some ways, we never stopped being hicks. We still look at the state and at the university with kind of starry-eyed bliss.

Tommy, who was Wisconsin’s governor for four terms and who was President George W. Bush’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, was obviously more materially successful than I was.

But I found a home at the Wisconsin State Journal and, later, as a small-town preacher where I found a great deal of vocational satisfaction.

UW-Madison was responsible for that in some weird ways. The three courses that served me best my entire life had nothing to do with my vocation or, even, my initial interests. They were an astronomy course for those who almost flunked physics, introduction to symphony and introduction to Shakespeare.

I don’t know what influenced Tommy. But I know he loves the UW.

Every institution in our society is about to undergo a profound restructuring and none of us know what comes next.

But the UW System could do worse than being led through the initial process by an old guy with nothing to prove and a lifetime record of loving the institution.