October 28, 2007 11:38 PM
Wait 'til next year -- and Tancredo will retire
UPDATED: With Tancredo's note to his staff
View file photo by M.E. Sprengelmeyer
By M.E. Sprengelmeyer
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS
Even if he loses his long-shot bid for the White House, Rep. Tom Tancredo will be leaving the U.S. House of Representatives at the end of 2008.
Tancredo, 61 , waited until after the Colorado Rockies' last out of the World Series on Sunday night before announcing that he plans to retire from Congress at the end of this, his fifth term.
"It's the fact that I really believe I have done all I can do in the House, especially about the issue about which I care greatly (immigration)," Tancredo told the Rocky Mountain News in a telephone interview from a motel in rural Iowa.
Tancredo said he made the decision several weeks ago, but he held off until the end of the World Series in hopes of starting a Colorado tradition. He said his congressional predecessor, the late Rep. Dan Schaefer, announced his retirement decision almost immediately after a Denver Broncos Super Bowl win.
The decision is not a surprise, considering Tancredo's repeated complaints that his uphill presidential run was taking a heavy toll on him and his family.
But it is sure to set off a mad succession scramble in his solidly conservative, suburban Denver district, where he repeatedly won re-election despite being a magnet for controversy.
Tancredo parlayed a back-bench seat in Congress into a national megaphone to oppose illegal immigration, denounce a so-called "cult of multiculturalism" and warn about a "clash of civilizations" between radical Islam and Western Civilizations.
Those issues have been the centerpiece of Tancredo's bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, although he has yet to break out of single digits in most polls. That campaign continues, with the first votes scheduled for the Iowa precinct caucuses in January.
Nearing the end of his second term, Tancredo sent a letter to supporters explaining why he planned to break his pledge to serve only three terms. In that letter, he cited his role as the leading champion of a crackdown on illegal immigration.
Since then, new leaders like Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, have picked up the cause. "They're vested in it now," Tancredo said. "And it's not just them. The country is there now."
On a personal note, he said, "Well, I am certainly looking forward to the time when at least a week can go by when I don't have to get on an airplane," Tancredo said.
He often complained about the rigors of the presidential campaign trail, which has required him to spend more than 50 days in Iowa, and dozens more in New Hampshire, South Carolina and other states this year.
He said he's looking forward to being able to watch his five grandchildren compete in youth baseball, football and soccer games. He said he doesn't have a specific career plan in mind, but said he would continue writing and other ways of influencing public policy debates.
Until now, Tancredo has tried to put off any talk of what he would do if that White House bid fell flat.
But over the summer, he began hinting that he had his eyes on a 2010 contest against Sen. Ken Salazar, a Democrat he sees as his polar opposite on the immigration issue. In recent weeks, he said he had decided that remaining in congress would not be a prerequisite for facing Salazar, although he did not know whether he would pursue a Senate bid.
In a free-wheeling , 70-minute interview while driving down the Iowa back roads in June, Tancredo said he was undecided about whether to seek congressional re-election.
"I have to have the fire in the belly, and this takes a lot of effort what I'm doing here," Tancredo said at the time.
"I'm telling you, it just wears on you just generally, physically, everything," he said then. "I just don't know whether I'll have the strength, the fire burning still."
Tancredo won the race to succeed Schaefer in 1998, in part by pledging to serve just three two-year terms. He announced plans to abandon that pledge just prior to winning his second term, saying he could not give up the platform he had gained to press for a crackdown on illegal immigration, which he sees as a threat to "the very existence" of the United States.
In January 2005, on the night before President Bush's second inauguration, he began toying with a long-shot run for president, saying that if nothing else he wanted to force other candidates to pick up the immigration reform banner.
He followed through with a candidacy at the beginning of this year, and he has spent more time on the ground in Iowa than any other Republican who's still in the race, according to a tally published by the Des Moines Register last week.
Still, after being relegated to the far edge of the stage at most nationally-televised debates, he's rarely recognized in public as he travels the Hawkeye State, and he has not raised the type of campaign bankroll that would allow him to flood the television airwaves with ads.
His presidential campaign continues. In fact, he had a full schedule of events on Monday in western Iowa.
"When I came to this decision, which was really a month or more ago, I felt good about it," Tancredo said. "And I feel good about it now."
* * *
Below is a copy of the (unedited) note that Tancredo sent late Sunday night explaining the decision to his staff:
The question I seem to encounter more often than any other is "what will you do if your long shot race for the Presidency does not pan out"?
Several weeks ago I made the decision but decided to wait until the Rockies played their last game for a reason that is certainly a bit hoaky. You see my predecessor announced his decision to not run again right after the Broncos had won the Super Bowl. I thought it would be nice to make it a tradition to announce after a CO team had won a national championship. Oh well. I said it was hoaky.
I have decided that I have accomplished all I can in the U.S. House of Representatives on the issue of immigration reform and will therefore not seek a 6th term.
I broke my term limits pledge because at the time, there was no one else to whom the baton could have been passed. Now there are so many folks working the issue from our side that I think I can safely say my work there is done. I stress the word "there"
Needless to say, there is still a lot we can do to hold everyone's feet to the fire for the next fourteen months. And our office still has the responsibility to serve the people of the 6th Congressional District in as professional and effective manner as has been our tradition for the last 9 years.
God bless you all
Tancredo for President '08