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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Tommy Thompson Center’s first event could be politically imbalanced, critics argue

UW-Madison’s controversial new policy center, named after one of the state’s leading Republican figures, announced that its first event this month will feature speakers with varying political views.

After Republican lawmakers pushed for its creation, the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership will host the “Leadership Across the Branches” conference, a one-day public event, on Nov. 17 at the Fluno Center.

According to a press release from the center, the event will “showcase esteemed individuals from both parties from the judicial, executive, and legislative branches at the federal and state levels.” These panelists, center officials said, will discuss the different aspects of leadership in their work.

Despite claiming to feature speakers from both sides of the political spectrum, several UW-Madison political science professors involved in the center’s creation have expressed concern that there is not enough balance between Democratic and Republican speakers.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Democrats fear that the center could become a conservative think tank based at UW-Madison because the majority of its governing board is selected by predominantly Republican legislative leaders.

UW-Madison political science professors Barry Burden and David Canon said they were concerned over the political makeup of the event’s panelists and attendees. Burden said his concern was that the center’s first event was not bipartisan, questioning “if it is wise to have essentially all of [the speakers] be prominent Republicans,” according to the State Journal.

In response to criticism, Ryan Owens, the center’s acting director, said the event’s panel would be split evenly between Democrat and Republican presenters, telling the State Journal he reached out to a “ton” of Democrats.

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