By Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel
Madison — Tommy Thompson is teaming up with another former governor to help advocate for the nation’s heartland in the halls of its Capitol.
Thompson, a Republican, and former Nebraska governor and U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, are the co-chairmen of the fledgling Midwest Council, which is seeking to lobby for the easy-to-overlook region before Congress.
Thompson, who also served as the federal health and human services secretary under President George W. Bush, is announcing the new nonprofit with Nelson Thursday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The group is modeled after the New England Council, which for most of a century has played a similar role representing the interests of that region.
It’s a new opportunity for Thompson, who a year ago lost a U.S. Senate race against Democrat Tammy Baldwin, though he emphasizes that the council is one project among many for him and much of the work of building up the start-up will be left to others.
“We’d like to see if we could have a larger voice in D.C. on a bipartisan basis,” Thompson said Wednesday.
Often dismissed as a backwater, the Midwest has struggled to get attention for everything from its companies to its sports teams and even its snowstorms. While any snowfall on the East Coast can seemingly command national newscasts, ranchers in South Dakota at first had to work to get attention and aid for an October blizzard that killed tens of thousands of cattle.
The region has seen core industries such as manufacturing lose employment and has likewise lost representation in Congress as its population is outpaced by regions such as the Southwest.
Making matters worse, the Midwest performs “miserably” in sticking up for itself in national forums such as Congress, said Richard Longworth, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Longworth, author of “Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism,” praised the idea of forming a group to improve that performance.
“Midwestern states have a terrible time cooperating with each other,” Longworth said. “The idea that what might be good for Illinois might be good for Wisconsin never crosses anybody’s mind.”
The Midwest Council has a goal of representing 12 upper Midwest and Plains states but so far its early members are concentrated in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Illinois and Minnesota, said executive director Tyler Foti.
But the council has already signed some high-profile members with headquarters inside and outside the region, including the Coca-Cola Co., the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
From Wisconsin, the members included Alliant Energy Corp., the Medical College of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. The council’s membership levels are $5,000, $10,000 and $25,000, Foti said.
Foti, the son of former GOP lawmaker and lobbyist Steve Foti, said the group is seeking to be as “bipartisan or nonpartisan as possible.” The council would work on issues such as transportation and the key economic drivers of the region — manufacturing and agriculture — with its priorities being “member-driven,” he said.
Thompson said the opportunities for the group ranged from making the most of the region’s world-class universities to correcting a formula in Medicare that shortchanges the region’s high-quality, low-cost health providers. He noted the failure of Congress so far to enact a farm bill and the need to protect and take full advantage of the region’s ample supply of fresh water.
“I’ve never thought that the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River got their fair share,” Thompson said.
Thompson said he’s serving at least two dozen other companies, mostly in the health care fields, as a board member, adviser or officer. Nelson also serves as the chief executive officer of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
Original source: Milwaukee/Wisconsin Journal Sentinal