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Posted: 3/12/2002 10:27:19 PM EDT
Note: edited for length. Full article is at http://[url]http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A11132-2002Mar11.html[/url] [b]The Candidate On Tap[/b] [i]Wisconsin Bartender Hopes to Fill His Brother's Shoes. Sort Of. By Peter Carlson Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, March 12, 2002; Page C01[/i] [b]TOMAH, Wis.[/b] This looks like the perfect crowd for Ed Thompson's campaign -- guys with bushy bib-length beards, guys with scraggly billy goat goatees, guys with tattoos and black leather vests and a large woman in a T-shirt that reads, "I Love My Country, It's My Government I Fear." The motel conference room is packed with about 100 members of ABATE -- A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments -- an organization of bikers opposed to helmet laws. And Thompson, Wisconsin's most famous bartender, wants their support in his campaign for governor. "The bars are with me," he says. "I need ABATE. I need the bikers. [red]I need the people that love freedom, that love to be free, that need to shake loose the tyranny that holds us in bondage."[/red] Ed says he's [red]for tax cuts and gun rights[/red] and medical marijuana. He says he's a "common man," not a "career politician" -- like his brother, Tommy. Tommy G. Thompson, 60, was governor of Wisconsin for 14 years before he went to Washington in 2001 to become George W. Bush's secretary of health and human services. Allan Edward "Ed" Thompson has a different kind of résumé. Now 57, he's been a boxer, a bartender, a butcher, a laborer, a snowplow driver, a real estate salesman, a prison guard, a professional poker player. Ed's had a few run-ins with the law, too. That's why Tommy used to joke that his little brother was Wisconsin's answer to Billy Carter, a comment that still irks Ed. Tommy started running for office even before he graduated from law school, but Ed never gave a hoot about politics until he got busted in 1997. "I'm probably the most apolitical person that ever lived," he told the bikers. "I never wanted to be in politics. I had nothing to do with it. And then the state raided my tavern." Turning the Tables Ah, the Great Tomah Tavern Raid! It's like something out of a Frank Capra movie -- a classic American tale of the lone man who refused to knuckle under, who fought the authorities and beat them, thanks to the love of his small-town neighbors. The raid made Ed a folk hero and launched his political career. The story begins in the early '90s, when Ed was divorced, depressed and broke, living alone with his dog and contemplating suicide. He pulled himself together, borrowed some money and bought the Tee Pee, an old bar in Tomah, a town of 8,400 whose municipal motto is "Gateway to Cranberry Country." The Tee Pee was a wreck. The pipes in the ceiling had burst, flooding the floor. Ed moved in, fixed the place up, renamed it Mr. Ed's Tee Pee. He tended bar and flipped burgers. As business picked up, he hired a cook, then some waitresses. Back on his feet by Thanksgiving of 1994, Ed decided to give thanks by cooking a free turkey dinner for anybody who wanted one. He served about 400 dinners that day. Within a few years, Ed was serving nearly 1,000 free Thanksgiving dinners at the Tee Pee and -- with the help of scores of his neighbors -- distributing hundreds of meals to shut-ins and people at old folks' homes.
Link Posted: 3/12/2002 10:28:30 PM EDT
In 1997, Ed was doing well enough to buy the building next to the Tee Pee and expand his dining room. He'd stopped smoking and drinking. And he'd fallen in love with one of his waitresses, who is 20 years younger than Ed and whose name happens to be Tina Turner. Things were looking up. But then the cops showed up. They burst through the door late one night in December 1997, looking for illegal video poker machines. They found four of them -- nickel machines -- and they busted Ed, charging him with four felony counts of possession of gambling devices. The arrest made headlines across the state: "Governor's brother hit in video poker raid." Ed was one of 43 bar owners busted that night. The 42 others agreed to plead guilty and pay a small fine. Ed refused. "My attorney said, 'Take the deal,' " Ed recalls. "My brother got on the phone and said, 'Take the deal.' I said, 'I'd rather go to prison than take the deal.' " Ed was mad. Didn't Indian tribes run huge casinos in Wisconsin? Didn't the state sell lottery tickets in every gas station? Didn't churches host bingo games? So why was he facing eight years in prison for four nickel poker machines? He demanded a trial, and a date was set for December 1998. Meanwhile, Ed persuaded a young lawyer to run against John Matousek, the veteran district attorney who organized the raids. Ed ran the challenger's campaign, and they won in a landslide. "He pulled together enough people who thought what I did was wrong, and I was bounced out of office," Matousek says. "It wasn't even close." Matousek was a lame-duck prosecutor when Ed's case came up for trial. The judge summoned 44 prospective jurors and asked them if they could be impartial. One after another, they said they couldn't: They knew Ed and liked him, and they didn't care about his poker machines. "One guy said, 'Why are you picking on Eddie?' " remembers Steve Hurley, who was Ed's lawyer. "And I looked at the other people there and they were nodding in agreement." Unable to get 12 jurors, Matousek offered Ed a deal: Pay the police $800 -- the cost of the raid -- and the county would drop all charges. "I said, 'I'm not paying the cops anything!' " Ed remembers. "And my lawyer said, 'I'll pay them.' So I took the deal." After that, Ed spent weeks going to the state legislature, buttonholing every member, asking them to support a bill that reduced the penalties for poker machines to a small fine. They passed the bill, Tommy signed it and it became known as "Ed Thompson's law." Ed announced that he'd joined the Libertarian Party, which opposes laws against gambling and other victimless crimes. In 2000, he decided to run for mayor of Tomah, a part-time job that pays $12,000. "After the raid, I thought I should get involved," he says. "I figured if I won, I'd be mayor, and if I lost, I'd go back to tending bar." He won, beating a two-term incumbent in a landslide.
Link Posted: 3/12/2002 10:29:22 PM EDT
Last year, inspired by Jesse Ventura's 1998 third-party victory in neighboring Minnesota, Ed decided to run for governor in the 2002 election. His first step was to travel to Minnesota to get Ventura's blessing. "At first he kind of shook his head," Ed recalls, "and then he said, 'Run and win,' and he threw his big arm around me. They put that picture in the paper and that sort of started it." Memory Lane, With Potholes Ed takes a swig from a 20-ounce Diet Pepsi and talks about Tommy. "He's my brother. I always voted for him, but I disagreed with him on some things." Like what? "Everything." He laughs. Then he gets serious. "The war on drugs. The war on crime. He kept building more and more prisons, and I used to ask him, 'How much time did you spend in prison? What do you know about it?' He said, 'I can read reports.' " Ed spent five years working as a guard and a cook in a federal prison, and he's got a blue-collar contempt for people who get their knowledge from reports. He's sitting in the back seat of his campaign van. His son Josh is driving. Josh is 22, the youngest of Ed's four kids, a senior at the University of Wisconsin, now serving as Ed's campaign manager. It's a Sunday morning. They're heading back from Janesville, where Ed served as the celebrity judge at boxing matches last night. He won that honor because the guy promoting the fights used to spar with Ed 20 years ago, when Ed boxed in Toughman bouts for a couple hundred bucks a fight. In his Toughman days, Ed says, he knocked three guys out and was beaten only once -- the loss coming on a night when he made the mistake of boxing after sucking down six beers. Josh heads into Elroy, the tiny farm town where Ed and Tommy grew up, where Josh lived until he was 7, when his parents divorced. "This is Elroy," Ed says, staring out at a snowy field dotted with cows. "Population about 1,500." [...] Oh, Brother Talking to a reporter about his brother, Tommy Thompson sounds about as chipper and bubbly as a man summoned to a tax audit. So, Mr. Secretary, what's Ed like? "He's a wonderful guy," Tommy says in a monotone. "He's funny. He's passionate. He's a good businessman. He's hardworking. And I love him." Would he make a good governor? "I think my brother could do anything he sets his mind to. He's that kind of individual." Does that mean you'll vote for him? "I never tell anybody how I vote, not even my wife." Will you endorse him? "I haven't endorsed anybody." But last month, you appeared at a $1,000-a-plate fundraising dinner for your successor, Gov. Scott McCallum. Wasn't that an endorsement? "I'll let you speculate on that," he says. "I haven't endorsed anybody." [...]
Link Posted: 3/12/2002 10:30:05 PM EDT
Speaking His Piece "I'm a different person than Tommy," Ed says. "He's a Republican. He believes in politicians. He really thinks George W. Bush is a fantastic guy. Can you believe that? That's proof right there that I'm the smartest." Ed bursts out laughing. He's sitting in the Tee Pee, eating a steak and shooting the breeze. He's full of opinions, and he expresses them in the blunt style of a barroom debater. For instance, he's against the war on drugs: "We ought to make it legal and tax the hell out of it." And he's not too thrilled with the war in Afghanistan, either: "I don't know how you stop terrorism by bombing farmers. How many do we have to kill before we're even? There's got to be a better way." Ed generally agrees with the Libertarian Party's opposition to government programs. But he dissents from its anti-welfare stance, and he's skeptical about his brother's nationally famous program to reduce the state's welfare rolls. "Now there's more people on skid row than ever," he says. "I worry about that. I don't know how they can survive. Some of them just can't work, they're mentally incapable. . . . We gotta do something. We can't let our people starve. We can't let 'em be cold. I been cold and I been hungry. It's not fun. I don't want to see any of my human brothers cold or hungry." [...] Weighing the Odds Can he do it? Can Ed actually win? "It could happen, but it's a long shot," says John Sharpless, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin and an unsuccessful Republican candidate for Congress in 2000. "Nothing is impossible," says Bud Johnson, the former Tomah mayor defeated by Ed. "Look what happened in Minnesota with Ventura." "I think he has a very good chance," says Steve Hurley, the prominent Madison lawyer who defended Ed in the video poker case. "People in Wisconsin are terribly angry." The voters have a lot to be angry about. The state budget is $1.1 billion in the red and McCallum -- the Republican who took office when Tommy Thompson went to Washington -- has proposed ending state aid to cities and towns. Meanwhile, the state legislature is embroiled in a scandal over illegal campaign activities by aides to the leaders of both parties, and reporters and political operatives are speculating about upcoming indictments. [...] Ed likes to compare himself to Ventura -- a small-town mayor who won the governorship on a third-party ticket. But others dismiss that analogy. "Jesse Ventura has a certain je ne sais quoi. Ed Thompson does not," says Dave Begel, campaign manager for Gary George, one of four Democrats running for governor. "For anybody to suggest he's a factor in the race -- it's crazy." Another Democratic campaign manager, Susan Goodwin, also pooh-poohs Ed's chances. His support, she says, consists of "hunters, tavern owners, guys who hang out in taverns and disaffected guys who say, 'Ah, he's the only one who talks sense.' " That last category, says Ed, should be enough to put him over the top. "I don't see how I can lose," he says. School of Hard Knocks "Most of my friends in Tomah are schoolteachers," Ed tells a room full of schoolteachers. "I was just up there talking to the eighth grade yesterday." [...] Later, he comes out [red]in favor of school vouchers[/red][...] © 2002 The Washington Post Company
Link Posted: 3/13/2002 4:58:42 AM EDT
Hell, if I lived in Wisconsin, I'd vote for him.
Link Posted: 3/13/2002 5:48:17 AM EDT
I have a whole new appreciation for professional politicians after seeing Jesse Ventura in action. Hopefully the people of WI have better sense than to elect this guy.
Link Posted: 3/13/2002 5:53:43 PM EDT
I lived in Tomah for years and I know Ed Thompson well. Spent many nights in his supper club at the bar listening to Ed spew his political beliefs. Although at times I like the guy, I would never vote for him. I guess I know him too well..... I don't have the time to go into it all here though!
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