Finding compromise and common ground was the running theme of former Governor Tommy G. Thompson’s remarks at WHA’s Advocacy Day on April 17, 2019. Thompson was the morning keynote for the event formatted in discussion style, moderated by WHA President & CEO Eric Borgerding.
Borgerding welcomed Thompson, praising him for his commitment to health care. “You’ve been a great champion of health care, a great advocate in every way, especially in the state of Wisconsin. We have a lot to be proud of in the state.”
Thompson shared many past experiences of nearly 40 years in public life and ways he bridged the political divide to accomplish major public policy. Thompson was most proud of two notable accomplishments: BadgerCare and Medicare Part D. Both are health care policies and pieces of legislation where Thompson took the lead and successfully passed with bipartisan support, a point he stressed throughout the conversation.
“When you work with big policies that move society, like social security, welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment, income taxes—all big items—there has always been a bipartisan vote,” said Thompson.
Drawing upon his experiences, Thompson shared how he sought after bipartisanship through the appointment of then Democrat Majority Leader Tim Cullen to his cabinet, and in meeting with members of both parties to push toward compromise.
“We would sit down and figure out how far the Democrats could go, how far the Republicans [could go],” said Thompson. “I would get them together, and then we would go out and be successful,” Thompson continued.
Thompson offered perspective on how to navigate today’s challenging and polarizing political environment. “If you get people together and give them an opportunity to participate with their ideas, it’s amazing how far you can go. And that’s what bipartisan is all about.”
He continued, drawing applause from the crowd, “There’s no such thing as a Republican idea. There’s no such thing as a Democrat idea. Everybody has good ideas. Let’s compromise and get it done.”
Borgerding acknowledged Thompson’s contributions to public health in the wake of 9/11.
“Hospitals are a community safety net, and not just for our high-quality health care, but also for state and local economies in times of emergency,” said Borgerding. “You were HHS Secretary during one of our most trying times in this country, during 9/11.”
Thompson shared, in detail, his memory of that day and the measures he took to deliver much needed medical equipment, including declaring a medical emergency and getting a plane to fly 100 tons of medical supplies when all air traffic was grounded. This experience enlightened Thompson of the ill-equipped public health system at the time, and led him to refund and rebuild the system.
“It took a disaster, a catastrophe, to wake up America that our public health system needs to be rebuilt and revitalized and continue to grow,” said Thompson.
Thompson left attendees with encouragement. “You’re here at the right time, during the budget debate. You have the Governor here this afternoon, and you are visiting the Legislature this afternoon. You can bring them together and be the heroes. And on top of that, accomplish good health care and good hospitals.”