- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rep. Tom Tancredo said yesterday that the immigration issue has now gained other champions and that he won’t seek re-election to his House seat next year, even if he doesn’t win his long-shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

With voters’ outraged calls helping sink the Senate’s immigration-reform bill, and with the other Republican presidential candidates making immigration a top priority, the Colorado Republican said his work is complete.

“I just figure, how many more signs do I need that I’ve done what I set out to do,” he said in a telephone interview from Iowa, where he is campaigning for his party’s presidential nomination.

He has compiled a conservative voting record, including opposing the prescription-drug program as part of Medicare and supporting school vouchers. But he made his mark by pressing for action on immigration long before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought the issue front-and-center.

Mr. Tancredo, 61, said he realized several weeks ago how much the issue has changed when he offered an amendment on the House floor to take away federal funds from sanctuary cities that protect illegal aliens’ identity.

Democrats accepted the amendment without objection. “I remember the first time I did it, I got 82 votes. That is what has changed in the Congress,” Mr. Tancredo said.

He said he hasn’t figured out what he will do when his term ends in January 2009, but one option would be to challenge Sen. Ken Salazar, Colorado Democrat, who is up for re-election in 2010.

He won election to the U.S. House in 1998, promising to limit himself to three terms, but four years ago announced he would break his pledge and run again to continue fighting illegal immigration, saying there was nobody to whom he could turn over the issue.

“Now there’s Steve King and Ted Poe and [John] Culberson; man, there’s a slug of guys and gals out there who are dynamite on this issue,” Mr. Tancredo said, referring to his House colleagues who have taken up the fight.

While it’s since become common, Mr. Tancredo was one of the first conservative Republicans to break publicly with the Bush administration, telling The Washington Times in 2002 that the president was the leading obstacle to national security.

Those comments earned him a rebuke from Karl Rove, at the time Mr. Bush’s top political adviser, who, according to Mr. Tancredo, told the congressman never again to “darken the door of the White House.”

Immigrant-rights advocates said Mr. Tancredo has done serious harm to his party.

“He’s become the leading spokesman in his party demonizing immigrants and demagoguing the immigration issue,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “It’s gotten him lots of press attention but the long-term cost to his party will be devastating. You don’t beat up and bully the fastest-growing group of voters in the nation without paying a price.”

But Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, who fought alongside Mr. Tancredo on immigration, said the congressman was there at all the key times.

“He’s been a bellwether of the national mood — kind of a sort of national canary who’s been way ahead, or foreshadowing the surge in public opinion, and actually helped lead it at critical times,” Mr. Stein said. “He’s really irreplaceable. He’s one of a kind. He’s both a maverick and an incredibly gutsy guy.”

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