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While it is certainly risky to claim fatherhood of a major policy initiative, there is agreement across a spectrum of political thought that indeed, Thompson was there for the birth, and even for the 2 a.m. feedings.
Former U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, said, "Among the governors, he certainly can take that position. He was more or less the quarterback." Ron Haskins, Senior Fellow, Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, agrees the claim is fair. "In terms of ideas for welfare reform and demonstrating it could work – as political claims go -- it makes sense for Tommy Thompson to make this claim. The role Thompson played at every stage was substantial."
Lawrence Mead, professor of Politics at New York University, and the author of a book on the first "welfare to work" program in the U.S., "Government Matters: Welfare Reform in Wisconsin," agrees "those are fair statements. He didn't do it single-handedly, but he was the crucial, most important single leader."
In 2004, Mead told a conference on welfare reform at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research "Wisconsin took the idea (of welfare to work) to extremes not seen anywhere else in the country. Wisconsin Works, the eventual system that it implemented, is the most radical reform in the country…and is a triumph of government."
Capital Times Editorial, Madison, Wisconsin, January 19, 2001
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