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Thompson expresses regret over aide’s gay-baiting of Tammy Baldwin

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Thompson made a blustery apology today on behalf of his campaign’s political director, who disseminated messages last week gay-baiting Democratic opponent Tammy Baldwin and implying that her participation in a Madison gay Pride event showed she was out-of-touch with “heartland values.”

Brian Nemoir sent out a Tweet linking to a video of Baldwin dancing on stage at an August 2010 Pride event held on Library Mall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. In an e-mail, he wrote, “clearly, there’s no one better positioned to talk ‘heartland values’ than Tammy.”

Nemoir’s messages coincided with Baldwin’s speech on heartland values at Democratic National Convention.

If she beats Thompson, Baldwin would become the first openly gay person ever elected to the U.S. Senate and the first woman ever elected to the Senate from Wisconsin.

“To me, (sexual orientation) is absolutely not an issue,” Thompson told reporters who asked him about the incident following his speech at a Rotary Club of Milwaukee luncheon. The former governor added that he was “very upset” about Nemoir’s action.

But Thompson said the Nemoir still remained a part of his campaign staff, although he declined to say in what capacity.

Asked if his campaign’s volley against Baldwin’s sexual orientation signals that his personal life is also fair game for public scrutiny, Thompson abruptly ended the short face-off with reporters and was led away by campaign spokesperson Lisa Boothe. Rumors of Thompson’s extramarital affairs have swirled among Madison poltical insiders for years.

Although Thompson told reporters today that sexual orientation is not an issue, he consistently opposed equality throughout his four terms as governor and during his stint as Secretary of Health and Human Services under former President George W. Bush.

Thompson eliminated former Gov. Tony Earl’s Council on Lesbian and Gay Issues during his first term as governor. During a 2009 Republican primary presidential debate, he said it should be legal to fire employees based on their sexual orientation.

In 2006, Thompson refused to join a coalition of former governors who opposed amending the state Constitution to ban legal recognition of same-sex marriages and civil unions.

During his rambling, off-the-cuff speech before Rotary Club members, Thompson attempted to reverse the hardline, right-wing positioning he assumed during the Republican primary for Senate. Today, Thompson described himself as a “moderate conservative” who believes in working cooperatively with the other side of the aisle.

Thompson blamed the process of redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of political district boundaries by the party in power based on U.S. Census numbers, for forcing him and other Republicans to run further to the right – and Democrats further to the left – during primaries by creating districts that are hyper-partisan.

In his brief interaction with reporters following his speech, however, Thompson backtracked and declared himself a conservative again.

Embroidering his speech with folksy humor, Thompson frequently referred to himself in the third person in a presentation that relied on personality rather than policies or facts. Thompson offered few policy proposals – and no new ones.

Thompson said investors who’ve sheltered their money in offshore accounts should be able to bring their cash back to the United States tax-free. He claimed eliminating the 35-percent tax on sheltered earnings would stimulate investment in new business development.

Echoing the Tea Party slogan “drill, baby, drill,” Thompson urged the nation to develop energy independence by drilling for oil in the Arctic, developing the Keystone Pipeline and converting trucks from diesel fuel to natural gas. He never once mentioned alternative or renewable energy resources.

“We have never a national energy policy,” Thompson claimed.

Thompson paid tribute to the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, depicting himself as a hero of that day. As Secretary of Health and Human Services at the time, he said that he refused Vice President Dick Cheney’s orders to leave his office and seek shelter. Thompson said he insisted on remaining on the job despite peril so that he could  help New Yorkers respond to the emergency.

“I declared a national health emergency … nobody’s ever done that,” Thompson declared in one of many dubious claims he made throughout his speech.

“New York had serious problems,” he said, adding that he was the first cabinet secretary to visit the scene of the catastrophe.

Rotary Club members asked several questions about Thompson’s position on health care reform. Although he vowed to overturn “Obamacare,” the former governor expressed agreement with many of the policies it contains, including its ban on denying insurance based on pre-existing conditions and its linkage of doctor’s pay with health outcomes rather than the number of procedures performed (although he seemed unaware of the latter aspect of the Affordable Health Care Act).

His source of disagreement with the AFA seemed to be only its mandate that all Americans purchase insurance, which experts say is the only way to make national health care affordable.

“This is America, we don’t mandate anything,” Thompson said, despite the existence court-upheld mandates on everything from paying income taxes to limiting the amount of crops someone can grow on their own land for their own consumption.

“If you want to deal with health care, you elect Tommy Thompson, ’cause he knows what’s going on,” Thompson vowed.

On the Web: Sign a petition calling on the Thompson campaign to stop its personal attacks.

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