This is interview #11 in JohnsonForAmerica.com’s “Important Voices” series, where we talk with key figures, such as elected officials, candidates, authors, commentators, and policy experts, about the issues of the day. A new interview is released every Monday and every Thursday, so check back often!
Our guest for today’s Important Voices interview is Ed Thompson. He is the brother of former Governor of Wisconsin and 2008 Republican presidential candidate, Tommy Thompson. Ed attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, before enlisting in the US Navy during the Vietnam War. On April 5, 2005, he won an unexpected victory in the city council election in Tomah, Wisconsin. He hadn’t been running for the position and had, unbeknownst to him, been the subject of a write-in campaign. Ed was the Libertarian Party candidate for Governor of Wisconsin in 2002, and received 11% of the vote in that race. He is currently serving his second term as Mayor of Tomah, Wisconsin, and is now a Republican candidate for Wisconsin’s state senate in the 31st district.
Josiah Schmidt: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. What compelled you to enter elective politics?
Ed Thompson: For 52 years, I lived an apolitical life. Then came December 13, 1997, one of the busiest days of the supper club I own–with Christmas parties and a fish fry. On that day, armed police raided my business and 43 other businesses in my county. The raids were the result of an extensive sting operation on nickel video poker machines. The police took the machines and every penny my supper club had brought in that night. They cleaned out our cash registers in the dining room and bar – leaving me unable to meet payroll and pay bills. In addition, I faced $40,000 in fines and eight years in prison.
First, I fought the charges, and the government lawyers couldn’t seat a jury willing to convict me–not even after they exhausted the jury pool and started pulling people off the street! Then, I went to Madison and worked hard to lobby the legislators and Governor to change the law, which they did do.
Confronting the government head-on awoke in me a desire to learn more about politics and to make a difference. I encouraged a young man fresh out of law school to run for the county’s district attorney office against the incumbent who helped organize the raids and ran the prosecutions. I campaigned hard for the challenger, and he won the election.
Since then, I have been elected as Tomah Mayor in 2000 and 2006, both times against multi-term incumbents. Also, I was elected in 2005 to serve as a Tomah Alderman.
In 2002 I put everything I had into a race for Wisconsin Governor as a Libertarian. I won 10.5% of all the votes cast in the Governor race–the highest vote percentage received by any third-party Wisconsin Governor campaign in sixty years. It is the one political race I have lost, but I won the most votes of any candidate in Juneau County where I grew up and Monroe County where I have lived and worked for the last twenty years. In Tomah, I won a majority of votes in the Governor race, and the record voter turnout required the printing of additional ballots on election day.
That the people who knew me best supported me in the Governor race makes me feel very appreciative. It also gives me confidence that I can win this State Senate race. So many people in the district know me well already. And I plan to travel the district nonstop from end to end to introduce myself to everyone else I can. Nobody will work harder than me.
Josiah Schmidt: Could you tell us the story of how you were drafted, without your knowledge, onto the Tomah, WI city council?
Ed Thompson: After my Governor race, I removed myself from politics and concentrated on running and expanding my supper club. I had no intentions whatsoever of running for office.
First thing in the morning on April 4, 2005, I voted in the Tomah city elections. I voted for the registered write-in candidate–the only candidate on the ballot and someone I had urged to run.
Then, throughout the day, people kept telling me they had voted for me. That really got me worried!
It turns out I had won the City Council seat 31 votes to three. At first, I was pretty adamant I would refuse the seat. But, people kept telling me how much they wanted me on the City Council. In the end, I reluctantly accepted the position. I felt honored by the faith my neighbors had expressed in me and thought I would be shirking my responsibility and duty if I declined.
Josiah Schmidt: What do you offer that your opponents do not?
Ed Thompson: My opponent and I have completely different philosophies of government. She supports bigger government, more spending, and more taxes. I support less government intrusion into our lives, and I pledge to oppose tax and fee increases and to introduce and support legislation that will significantly reduce Wisconsin taxes, fees, and wasteful spending. This is a pledge I have made and kept as Mayor of Tomah. As Mayor, I have worked hard to decrease residential and business property tax rates. I even vetoed a budget to accomplish this goal. That had never been done before in Tomah.
Josiah Schmidt: What are the biggest issues in Wisconsin that you think still need to be addressed?
Ed Thompson: We need to take our state government back because it is out of control. It is out of control with spending; it is out of control with taxes; and it is out of control with borrowing. Last year alone, the legislature passed over $5 billion in new taxes and fees on families and businesses to pay for a 6.8% increase in government spending. The taxes are driving family wage jobs out of Wisconsin. Wisconsinites have had enough and want some common sense back in the state government.
Josiah Schmidt: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in politics?
Ed Thompson: The squeaky wheel does get the grease. The elderly woman living on a small fixed income who does not complain gets nothing special from the government. But, the big special interest that works the system gets plenty. This is at the root of the problem.
Josiah Schmidt: What issues are most important to Wisconsinites?
Ed Thompson: On the campaign trail, I am overwhelmed by the nods of support I receive when I tell people in my State Senate district that I pledge to oppose tax and fee increases and to introduce and support legislation that will significantly reduce Wisconsin taxes, fees, and wasteful spending. They know that state government taxes and spending is making it hard for them to pay for necessities and is driving jobs out of Wisconsin.
Josiah Schmidt: What candidate qualities are most important to Wisconsinites?
Ed Thompson: Trust. Wisconsinites want to vote for people they know will apply common sense and look out for the public interest and individual liberty every time. They are tired of the corruption and the out of control, special interest driven spending. They want someone who knows that the government should be the servant of the people, not the other way around.
Josiah Schmidt: How did you come to hold such a liberty-oriented philosophy?
Ed Thompson: My dad was a tremendous influence on my life. He enjoyed life to its fullest, and he was so rigid in his determination to always do the right thing. He would never waste money, but he was kind and helped out many people. He would never cheat someone to get ahead himself.
Josiah Schmidt: Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Ed Thompson: I met Governor Gary Johnson in 2002 when he was the keynote speaker at the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin state convention. The night before his speech, we had dinner together. Gov. Johnson impressed me as an extremely smart man committed to advancing liberty. I was very impressed when he told me that he vetoed more legislation than all the other Governors combined. Before our dinner, I respected Gov. Johnson’s actions to publicize harms from the drug war and make New Mexico drug policy more humane. After dinner I also understood his broader commitment to protecting liberty and restraining government in other areas as well.
Josiah Schmidt: Where can people go to find out more about you and contribute to yourcampaign?
Ed Thompson: My campaign has a great website at www.EdThompson.com. While you are there, make sure you sign up for my campaign email list and check out my linked Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter pages.
I can win this race. But, I can only do it with your help. Please make your most generous donation at www.EdThompson.com or mail a check to Friends for Ed Thompson at PO Box 604, Tomah, Wisconsin 54660.
Josiah Schmidt: The best of luck to you and your campaign! Thanks for talking to us, Ed.