Tancredo ponders his future after Congress

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By AJ Vicens

Littleton Republican Tom Tancredo, who announced last week that he would not seek re-election to the U.S. House, is pressing on with his presidential campaign and his crusade against illegal immigration.

Tancredo said he has done what he can in Congress, and it’s time to move on.

“I have accomplished in the House the major task I set out to accomplish,” Tancredo said. “(There were) two parallel tracks here: one was to do everything I could for my constituency, and the other was to do everything I could for the country in terms of immigration reform. And I have completed the latter, and I think that I have lived up to the former.”

The four-term congressman addressed a variety of topics in a telephone interview with the Courier late last week, from his accomplishments in Congress to his critical views of the Bush administration.

He said his years in the House have been time well spent, but that it’s time to go.

“There is a season for all things, and my season for being in the House of Representatives has come to an end,” Tancredo said.

It was tough to pin Tancredo down on specific things he has accomplished that have directly benefited the 6th Congressional District, which encompasses Jefferson County and most of Denver’s southern suburbs.

“I think that my constituents have benefited, as has the country, from my efforts to force the efforts of immigration reform to the front burner,” Tancredo said.

He added that he has been as effective in representing his district’s specific interests as any other congressional delegate from Colorado, and that he has been “successful” in bringing back as many of the tax dollars his constituents pay in federal gas tax as any other representative.

Tancredo has sought more than $226 million in earmarks, the bulk of which are transportation related, according to a breakdown on his website. It’s unclear how much of that funding was approved.

“You do what you can for the constituency, and you do what you can for the country, and hopefully they coincide,” Tancredo said. “And I think that they have in my case.”

When asked if his strong, sometimes controversial stance on illegal immigration and immigration reform hurts his efforts to effectively represent his district, or if it became a distraction, Tancredo was unapologetic.

“I would ask anyone to think about this: What has, let’s say, Rep. (Mark) Udall or Rep. (Diana) DeGette, what have they been able to do ee that is more than I have been able to do for my district?” Tancredo said. “I can’t think of anything. I think that my being controversial has not hurt anything.”

Tancredo said he didn’t go to Congress promising to “bring home the bacon,” and that he was determined to work on issues important to him, including illegal immigration, reducing spending and “the right to life.”

Tancredo, already well known on the national level for making sometimes-controversial statements, further raised his national profile when he announced that he was running for president, with illegal immigration as the chief issue in his campaign platform.

He said that amplifying his position on illegal immigration is the main reason he ran, but “once you make the announcement and decision to run, you must go ahead with it, and you have to run as hard as you can until there’s no longer a purpose in it and you have accomplished everything you think you can.”

“I’m going to continue doing that until I have either been elected or gotten to the point where I figure I’ve done everything I can do in that regard,” Tancredo said.

By mid-January, he’ll know whether he can continue on in the race, but that will likely be the end.

“Chances are, if you’re taking odds and making bets on it, the best bet is that will be the end of the line,” Tancredo said. He said he doesn’t support any of the other Republican presidential candidates, and he doesn’t plan on endorsing any of them.

He said he’s not sure what he’s going to do when he leaves Congress.

“I’m really not much of a guy who does long-term planning and, for my life, I put it all in God’s hands, and I have faith that he’ll take care of me,” Tancredo said.

Tancredo is a former president of the Independence Institute, a Golden-based conservative think tank. He likes to hunt and shoot trap and skeet, work around his Littleton home and watch his grandchildren play sports.

Tancredo said he’ll keep pushing immigration reform until “we get the problem solved.”

“The thing is, I certainly don’t claim that I have solved the problem,” he said. “I know that I have now created a situation where it can be solved because now there’s a lot of other people in the Congress that care about it. There was none — there was no one when I came (to Washington), no one that would speak up.” He said that his efforts have helped changed the attitude of Republicans in confronting illegal immigration.

President Bush’s public statements on securing the borders and putting a smattering of National Guard troops along the Mexican border are all “hogwash,” according to Tancredo.

“(It’s all just) posturing to try to get an amnesty bill through even next year,” Tancredo said. “He believes that if he can present the case that they’ve done enforcement, then they can push for amnesty again next year.”

Has Tancredo ever talked about this issue with the president directly?

“No, we haven’t really had any opportunity to communicate in quite some time,” Tancredo said. “Because, as Karl Rove told me once, ‘You are never to darken the doorstep of the White House,’ and I haven’t.”

Tancredo sees the 6th Congressional District as a “strong Republican district,” but he added that most Republicans have become “somewhat concerned about the direction of the party nationally, and have lost some of their enthusiasm.”

“But I think down deep, most of the people who live in the district, and most Coloradans ee are conservative,” Tancredo said. “What they’re looking for are conservatives to support, and a party that will live up to their expectations, and so far we haven’t done a very good job, either at the state or the national level.”

He said the “small-government conservative is an endangered species.”

Bush recently said that he was going to “sprint to the finish” of his term, but Tancredo has a slightly different take on the 14 months left in his time as a representative.

“I’m going to continue to apply as much pressure as I possibly can at both the state and national level to accomplish the goals that I started out with a long time ago,” Tancredo said. “I don’t know if I call it a sprint so much as I call it a dogged determination to move an issue.”

Contact A.J. Vicens at: aj@evergreenco.com.