WI: Tommy - For or Against Rail?

Tommy Thompson wants Wisconsinites to get one fact crystal clear: He does not support high-speed rail.

The former Republican governor of Wisconsin, former high-speed rail booster and former chairman of the Amtrak board, says he wants nothing to do with any trains between Madison and Milwaukee.

Never mind that Thompson once had that very rail line on the front burner. Or that no less than former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, a former Democratic presidential candidate and former vice chairman of the Amtrak board, said when Thompson stepped down as chairman in 2001 that losing Thompson "would be a tragedy" for Amtrak.

Now, trains are partisan. They're anti-conservative, and Thompson, a U.S. Senate candidate who some once thought of as a moderate, is now plenty conservative - just like his two GOP opponents, former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.

Well ... maybe.

The Milwaukee Business Journal reported that Thompson said at a Milwaukee Press Club luncheon on Jan. 23 that, if he could have changed the rules, he would have taken the $810 million in federal rail money that current GOP Gov. Scott Walker turned down. The problem with the proposed rail line, the Journal reported, was that it made too many stops.

"I would've changed high-speed trains into really being high-speed trains," the Journal quoted Thompson. "I would've changed it and I would've had it immediately Milwaukee to Madison, no-stop. Make it high speed and make it my train."

Whoa. That sounds like the old rail-backer Thompson.

Not so, says his campaign. Thompson was "misinterpreted."

"I have consistently opposed the rail project between Milwaukee and Madison, and I believe Gov. Scott Walker did the right thing to reject the line," reads a quote from the Thompson camp issued later that day. "High-speed rail may work in certain densely populated areas of the country, but not in Wisconsin, and not when the federal government urgently needs to reduce spending and balance the budgets."

But the damage was done. The uber-conservative Club for Growth, which backs Neumann, immediately put out its own press release, entitled, "A flip-flop faster than a speeding train."

"It appears Tommy Thompson is a bigger fan of high-speed rail than Joe Biden," quips Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. "This panic-stricken attempt to hide his support for high-speed rail is ridiculous and silly. Tommy Thompson is a big-government Republican and his desperate attempts to hide his record are laughable."

Thompson campaign manager Darrin Schmitz didn't immediately return a phone call for comment.

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