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Governor Tommy G. Thompson

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  • Born November 19, 1941 in Elroy, Wisconsin 
  • Wife, Sue Ann. Three children, Tommi, Kelli and Jason 
  • B.S. 1963, J.D. 1966, University of Wisconsin-Madison 
  • Attorney 
  • Served in the Wisconsin National Guard and the Army Reserve 
  • Elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly 1966; Served as minority leader and assistant
  • minority leader 
  • Elected Governor of Wisconsin 1986; Reelected 1990 and 1994 
  • Past chairman, National Governors' Association, Republican Governors Association and Education Commission of the States

GOV. TOMMY G. Thompson was born and raised in the small, central Wisconsin town of Elroy. His father ran a gas station and general store in that town of 1,500. Thompson's first job-at age six-was sorting and polishing eggs in his father's store. His mother was a school teacher. 

Thompson toppled a long-time incumbent of the state Assembly in 1966 to begin his own career in public service. He knocked on nearly every door in a district that spanned three counties to beat the man who had represented the area for almost 20 years. He was elected assistant Assembly minority leader in 1973 and Assembly minority leader in 1981. He practiced law during the majority of his time in the legislature. 

Thompson was first elected governor in 1986, surprising the political experts by defeating the incumbent Democratic governor and receiving 53 percent of the vote. Gov. Thompson was reelected in 1990, garnering 58 percent of the vote. The governor in 1994 became the first in Wisconsin's history elected to a third, four-year term with almost 68 percent of the vote. 

Since the day he took office, Gov. Thompson has pursued an ambitious and innovative agenda focused on five main policy areas: the economy, ending welfare, education reform, the environment and crime.  Wisconsin's economy was in poor shape when Gov. Thompson took office over a decade ago. It was so bad that state business leaders placed an ad in the Wall Street Journal warning other businesses to stay out of Wisconsin. 

The governor went to work immediately to turn around the state's economy. He cut state income tax rates, eliminated the inheritance tax and phased out the gift tax. He retained an 60 percent exclusion on capital gains, making Wisconsin the only state to do so after it was eliminated at the federal level. He has vetoed more than $600 million in legislative tax increases. 

Gov. Thompson's tenacious economic development efforts have created nearly 600,000 jobs during the last 10 years. 

Gov. Thompson in 1995 cut Wisconsin property taxes by $1.2 billion-the largest tax cut in state history-without raising other general taxes. Wisconsin is the only state known to have accomplished such a difficult feat. 

Gov. Thompson's tenacious econmic development efforts have created nearly 600,000 new jobs in the last 10 years, including more manufacturing jobs than any state in the nation. There are more people at work today in Wisconsin than at any time in the state's history. 

The unemployment rate in Wisconsin has remained below the national average for eight and one-half years, including a 30-year low in the annual rate of 3.5 percent in 1996. Wisconsin's capitol city, Madison, has the lowest unemployment rate in the United States. 

A recent study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that the state's economy will continue to be among the most powerful in the country, creating 50,000 new manufacturing jobs each of the next three years. The same study ranked Gov. Thompson as the No. 1 reason why Wisconsin's economy is as strong as it is today. 

For more information about Wisconsin's job opportunities: Department of Employment Relations, Department of Workforce Development. 

Gov. Thompson earlier this year ended welfare reform in Wisconsin when he signed into law his landmark "Wisconsin Works," or W-2, program. W-2 replaces the current welfare entitlement system with one that requires participants to work, gives them the opportunity to earn wages and to learn to increase their value to employers. Wisconsin is the first state in the nation to end the entitlement to welfare benefits. 

W-2 is the culmination of a decade-long effort by Gov. Thompson to reform welfare that began as soon as he took office. "Learnfare," introduced in 1987, requires children from ages 6 to 19 to attend school. If they do not, their families' welfare benefits are reduced. The "Parental and Family Responsibility" program removed the disincentives in the current system that prevent young couples from marrying and working. 

Gov. Thompson has reduced Wisconsin's welfare rolls by more than 80 percent. 

The "Family Cap" does not increase benefits for women who have additional children while they are on welfare. "Children First" ensures that non-custodial parents meet their child support obligations. 
The "Work Not Welfare" program, begun in January 1995, is the first program in the country that requires work from participants and places a limit on how long they can receive benefits. 

His work, through those and other reform initiatives, has reduced Wisconsin's welfare rolls by more than 80 percent, which is more than the rest of the states combined during the same period. 

Gov. Thompson's chief education goal is to give parents the tools they need to ensure their children are receiving the best education possible. 

He initiated in 1990 the first parental school choice program in the nation, allowing low income Milwaukee families to send their children to the private or public school of their choice. The governor last year 
expanded the program to include religious schools, making Wisconsin the first state to do so. 

Gov. Thompson's goal is to give parents the tools they need to ensure that their children are receiving the best education possible. 

Wisconsin was one of the first states to implement school to work and youth apprentice programs. They are widely recognized as among the best in the country and are used as models for programs around the country. Wisconsin's programs make school more relevant for more than 10,000 students by providing work-based learning experiences in 19 different fields. 

Gov. Thompson's national leadership on the issue of education reform was highlighted when he convened the 1996 National Education Summit. The nation's governors agreed at the summit to establish internationally competitive education standards by 1998. Business leaders from some of America's most important companies agreed to begin asking prospective employees for their high school transcripts and diplomas. They also agreed to base their business location decisions in part on the commitment of states and communities to enforcing high academic standards. 

For more information about Wisconsin's educational system: Educational Communications Board. 

Wisconsin is the model for successfully balancing the preservation of the environment with strong, sustained economic growth. Industrial pollution in Wisconsin has been cut by 26 percent during the same period in which the number of businesses has grown 30 percent and 600,000 new jobs have been created. 

Gov. Thompson has purchased nearly 160,000 acres of land for preservation, more than any governor in the state's history. He created the $250 million Stewardship Fund to purchase additional, environmentally sensitive land and to restore important wildlife habitat.   The governor created the state's nationally recognized Clean Water Fund from which $2 billion has been spent to help local communities meet their wastewater needs. 

Industrial pollution has been cut by 26 percent in Wisconsin during the same period in which the number of businesses has grown by 30 percent. 

The governor last year reintroduced elk to northern Wisconsin. They became extinct in the state at the turn of the century. He also has reintroduced wolves to the state and has worked to restore a bald eagle population that was itself near extinction only several years ago. 

For more information about Wisconsin's environment: Department of Natural Resources, Public Service Commission. 

Wisconsin is one of the safest states in the country because of Gov. Thompson's dedicated efforts to fight crime in the state. The six safest cities in the country, according to the FBI, are all in Wisconsin. 

Gov. Thompson's milestone sexual predator law allows the state to civilly commit criminals that still pose a danger to society after they have completed their prison terms. He eliminated mandatory parole, making it harder for violent criminals to be paroled. The governor sought and signed legislation creating a "life means life" law, allowing judges to sentence murderers to prison without the possibility of parole. 

Wisconsin is one of the safest states in the country because of Gov. Thompson's dedicated efforts to fight crime. 

Gov. Thompson rewrote Wisconsin's juvenile code to make young criminals more accountable for their actions. Juvenile murderers as young as 10 may now be tried as adults in Wisconsin. The age of delinquency was similarly lowered to from 12 to 10. The age at which a young person can be waived into adult court was lowered from 16 to 15. The governor also lowered the age of majority from 18 to 17. 

The governor has doubled the state's prison capacity-adding more than 1,200 beds-to ensure that convicts stay off the streets and away from Wisconsin families. Gov. Thompson signed legislation this spring authorizing the construction of a super maximum security or "Super Max" prison. When this plain, stark and austere facility is completed, it is where Wisconsin's most vicious criminals and most unruly convicts will be sent. 

For more information about Wisconsin's prison system: Department of Corrections. 

Gov. Thompson has received numerous awards for his public service, including the Anti-Defamation League's Distinguished Public Service Award, the American Legislative Council's Thomas Jefferson Award, City and State magazine's Most Valuable Public Official and the Free Congress Foundation's "Governance" Award. 

The governor has served as chairman of the National Governors' Association, the Republican Governors Association, the Education Commission of the States, the Midwestern Governor's Conference and the Council of Great Lakes Governors. 

Gov. Thompson is a member of St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Elroy.  Thompson is an avid sportsman and enjoys both hunting and fishing. He also likes to downhill and water ski and jog.

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