Tommy Thompson

UW political science professors involved in the creation of a new publicly funded policy center bearing the name of former Republican Gov. Tommy G. Thompson expressed concern that there wasn't enough balance between Democratic and Republican speakers at its first planned major event, newly released emails show.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune archives

A forum this month put on by the new policy center at UW-Madison named for former Gov. Tommy Thompson will feature speakers from across the political spectrum.

The Leadership Across the Branches forum — the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership’s first event after Republican political leaders pushed for its creation and funding in the 2017-19 state budget — will take place Nov. 17 at UW-Madison’s Fluno Center.

Democrats have raised concerns that the Thompson Center could amount to a conservative think tank housed at UW-Madison, because most of its governing board will be chosen by leaders from the Legislature, which is dominated by Republicans.

During planning for the forum, two UW-Madison professors also voiced uneasiness about the political makeup of the event’s panelists and attendees, noting that it skewed conservative.

Several well-known Republican lawmakers — Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, and Congressman Glenn Grothman — are among the forum’s list of confirmed speakers. Conservative state Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack and former GOP Congressman Scott Klug are also slated to take part in discussions.

Democratic speakers include Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, and former Assembly Speaker Tom Loftus.

Political science professor Ryan Owens, the center’s acting director, said Thursday that he has extended invitations to Democrats who were unable to attend the forum and is waiting to hear back from U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan and Ron Kind.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.