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Republicans Announce New Policy Center At UW-Madison

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos: Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership Would Balance Out Liberal Ideas


Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and other top Republicans have announced a new leadership center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that Vos said will “offset some of the liberal thinking” on campus.

The speaker’s remarks came as UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank pledged that the new Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership would promote nonpartisan research.

In this Jan. 5, 2015 file photo, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson waves to the crowd during an inauguration ceremony for Gov. Scott Walker at the Capitol in Madison. Andy Manis/AP Photo

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Republicans made the announcement at a state capitol press conference.

In addition to Vos, Gov. Scott Walker, Republican Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and the Republican co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget committee all shared stories about Thompson, who was the longest-serving governor in Wisconsin history.

But it was Vos who framed the new center as a counterbalance to liberal ideas.

“Far too often it seems like there’s only one point of view on college campuses,” Vos said. “So our job here is to make sure that we continue the effort to have maximum free speech on campus.”

Vos said the center would receive $1.5 million per year. While it would be housed on the UW-Madison campus, funding would be set aside to help other campuses pay for guest speakers.

“Hopefully it will be able to offset some of the liberal thinking,” Vos said. “This is just hoping that we can have a balance of thought on campus.”

Vos has regularly called for more conservative speakers on campus. He’s currently sponsoring a bill that would require UW System campuses to “remain neutral on public policy controversies” and could punish students for disrupting campus events.

While the speaker has been at odds with Walker on other issues, Walker praised Vos for his leadership on creating the Thompson Center, calling it a fitting tribute to the former governor.

“I don’t think anybody loves the University System more than Tommy Thompson,” Walker said.

Blank said planning for the center has been in the works for two years. She said it would focus on objective, nonpartisan research and the belief that universities have a central role to play in public life.

“Gov. Thompson has been a constant supporter of the university,” Blank said. “With this center, his legacy is going to help build closer ties between our researchers and policy-makers.”

Not everyone was immediately onboard. No Democrats spoke at the press conference, and Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said she was skeptical about the details of how the new center would be funded.

“While I trust Chancellor Blank and her leadership, with this GOP crew in charge and Speaker Vos’ very partisan comments today, there are always strings attached,” Taylor said in a statement.

Republicans planned to add funding for the center to the UW System’s budget, although the Republican co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget committee delayed that vote, saying their colleagues are still at odds over Walker’s plan to cut tuition for in-state students at university campuses.

Thompson was governor from 1987 to 2001. He later served as secretary of health and human services in President George W. Bush’s cabinet from 2001-2005.