Thompson, Nass argument shows how the party has changed.

Wisconsin is witnessing a clear illustration of the friction between the former and the current composition of the Republican Party.

On one side is Tommy Thompson, the former four-term governor and health secretary under President George W. Bush.

On the other is the hard-right legislative faction, in this instance led by Sen. Stephen Nass of Whitewater, a local legislator whose 11th District represents significant portions of south central Wisconsin.

The issue is the UW System’s response to the covid pandemic.

Thompson, in his capacity as interim president, set a fall goal for at least 75% of classes to be held in person. He has not allowed the system to require vaccinations, but has set up aggressive incentives to encourage getting the shots. And Thompson has permitted individual campuses to respond to conditions on the ground with protocols including masks and testing.

Nass and allies in the Legislature say that violates freedoms and are threatening to sue. The UW System, he argues, cannot implement such policies without the Legislature’s approval.

“It is sad that Interim President Tommy Thompson has once again shown his belief in big government control over the rights of individuals to make their own health related decisions,” Nass said in a news release. He vows to “commence legal action … to force the UW System to comply with state laws.”

For his part Thompson says, “I’m not going to be intimidated. … I’m still a strong Republican. I just put my Republican bonafides aside when I run the university. I’ve got the right and the authority and the responsibility to do what’s necessary to keep the universities open.”

There you have the two visions of the Republican Party. And Thompson, unfortunately, these days is out of step.

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