'Here & Now' Highlights: Tommy Thompson, Jeff Lamont

Here's what guests on the March 18, 2022 episode had to say about serving as president of the UW System during the pandemic and accomplishments leading its universities, and the ongoing struggle living with "forever chemicals" contaminating water around Peshtigo.

By Frederica Freyberg | Here & Now

March 21, 2022

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Frederica Freyberg and Tommy Thompson sit in chairs in a room with a bookshelf in the background.

Frederica Freyberg and Tommy Thompson (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

Former UW System President Tommy Thompson said he’ll make a decision whether to run in the 2022 Republican primary for governor over the course of April, describing how public service is in his bones. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit against Tyco and Johnson Controls, Inc. over PFAS contamination from the companies’ fire-fighting foam test site in Marinette, and a retired hydrogeologist who lives in the area discussed his frustrations with the pollution.


Tommy Thompson
Former President, UW System

  • Thompson was quick to respond when asked about his most significant achievement as system president.
  • Thompson: “In July of 2020, you know, the university was in financial trouble. A lot of the campuses were in real financial trouble. They didn’t know if they were going to be able to open up in fall, and they didn’t know how to open up. And so I came in, had a two-hour meeting with the chancellors, and at the end of the two-hour meetings, I asked them what their decision was. Their decision was they wanted another meeting. I said, no, I’m making a decision. We’re opening up September 3. About one-third were with me. One-third was opposed. One-third was “machts nichts.” And so we opened it up and then I knew I had to make sure that it was safe. In order to be safe, we had to wear masks and have to inculcate a culture of responsibility with the students, and the students were fantastic. The faculty was fantastic. And so we opened up and we decided we needed a testing program. The testing program was one of the best, if not the best in the country. The federal government got wind of it and they came out here and they asked if they could expand it into the community. So I said, ‘Sure, if you gave us some money!’ They gave us up to $50 million to set it up, and so we became the problem solvers.”
    Thompson is considering a run in the 2022 Republican primary for governor. Service to Wisconsin is in his blood, he said.
  • Thompson: “Public service. Fifty years. You know, I was a state legislator for 20 years. I was governor for over 14 years. I was in the cabinet for four years and I was president here at this university for almost two years. That’s a long time — over 40 some years I’ve been in the public arena. It’s hard to change. It’s hard to say, you know, I don’t get up in the morning and read the newspapers, hear the news and listen to you on television and so on. I love to serve. I’m an individual that believes in civic service, and everything I’ve done is, ‘How do I make Wisconsin better?’ … That’s a clock inside of me that goes off every hour as to how do I serve and make things better. I hate the status quo. I’ve always been one of those individuals. If you believe in the status quo, you go backwards. And I want to move forward. I’m always looking forward. How do I advance Wisconsin? How do I make Wisconsin better?”


Jeff Lamont
Retired Hydrogeologist, Town of Peshtigo resident

  • The Wisconsin Dept. of Justice filed suit against Johnson Controls, Inc. and Tyco alleging the companies failed to report the discharge of PFAS chemicals at their firefighting foam test site in Marinette between 2013 and 2016. The lawsuit seeks monetary penalties for allegedly violating the state’s hazardous substance spills law and failing to remediate the contamination of these “forever chemicals.” In response, Tyco told Wisconsin Public Radio the company stands behind its investigations and remediation of PFAS at its Fire Technology Center in Marinette. One Town of Peshtigo resident and a retired hydrogeologist, Jeff Lamont, has monitored high levels of PFAS contamination in his private well – drinking bottled water for four-and-a-half years while watching his friends and neighbors suffer from serious health effects. As an early reporter of the contamination to government officials, Lamont called the state’s lawsuit very validating.
  • Lamont was among about 270 residents in the Peshtigo area that received a settlement from Tyco as a result of the pollutants from its test site.
  • Lamont: “It’s kind of a double-edged sword in that the amount of money that was appropriated and deemed reasonable by the judge — once you take away the attorney’s fees — leaves about $12 million for those two hundred-plus homes. I got to meet one of the gentlemen that ended up, a young man, with testicular cancer in our area. I’m not sure how you put a value on that.”


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