10 Nov Could Tommy Thompson’s next stop be Transportation, Homeland Security, or the private sector?
Trying to guess Tommy Thompson’s next career move is like attempting to count the number of beans in a jar. You can see through the glass and make an educated guess – but you rarely come close enough to win the prize.
That important disclaimer aside, here are some long-shot predictions about what Wisconsin’s Thompson will be doing after (and if) he leaves as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For those who enjoy political side bets, I’ll even provide some odds.
Thompson will stay at DHHS (20:1 against) – The former Wisconsin governor has enjoyed a successful tenure at the federal government’s largest agency, leading reforms in Medicare, Medicaid, the Food and Drug Administration and emergency management after 9/11. But the agency probably wasn’t his first choice after President Bush was first elected in 2000, and he’s repeatedly indicated he is a short-timer – including in a public speech in Madison before the election.
Thompson will move to Transportation (5:1 against) – Transportation has always been a passion for Thompson, who served on the Amtrak board and would like to accelerate the move toward creation of a Midwest passenger rail system. When the Detroit automakers were looking for someone to head their lobbying efforts, they tried to talk Thompson into the job. He also sees the restructuring of the nation’s air system as imperative. Current secretary Norman Mineta has signaled he will leave, but is the Transportation Secretary’s job big enough for Thompson given he would be leaving an agency that is bigger than all but seven foreign governments?
Thompson will move to Homeland Security (8:1 against) – Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge has indicated he’ll be moving on in time, and Washington insiders predict current Under Secretary and former U.S. Representative Asa Hutchinson has the inside track. But if you saw the post-election picture of Bush and his Cabinet on the cover of many national newspapers last week, you might have noticed that Thompson was front-and-center. Was that a sign Bush is dangling one of his most important jobs before Thompson? As secretary of DHHS, Thompson built an internal emergency management system that has become a model for other federal agencies. Like Ridge, he is a former governor who knows how to work with state and local governments. He’s traveled the world extensively as HHS secretary, and understands the inner working of bio-security, which ranks among the biggest threats. Politically, there may be people ahead of Thompson for the Homeland Security job. In terms of meeting the job requirements, however, there wouldn’t be many people better qualified.
Thompson runs for governor in 2006 (50:1 against) – While he occasionally may tweak Gov. Jim Doyle, that’s the mischievous side of Thompson, not the serious side. While he won’t rule it out, returning to the East Wing of the Capitol in Madison is a real long shot. The odds are only slightly better that Thompson would run for U.S. Senate.
Thompson goes to the private sector (Even odds) – After 38 years in the public sector, Thompson may be ready for a change. He’s never amassed a fortune during his years in the Legislature, as governor and at DHHS, and his family would certainly like to see him closer to home. But Thompson is as energetic as ever, and it’s sometimes hard to imagine him being in a position that is less than 24-7 demanding.
Counting the beans looks like a simple job, but what appears so transparent to the public can easily be hidden by a jar-full of choices. The only one who really knows what Thompson wants to do is Thompson himself – and, so far, he’s not talking.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.