- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2009

LAKEWOOD, Colo. | After wrapping up his bid for the Republican presidential nomination and stepping away from Congress, Tom Tancredo came home to Colorado this year with visions of semiretirement.

All thoughts of slowing his frenetic pace were dashed earlier this year, however, when he learned he had lost his entire savings, about $1 million, in a fund connected to convicted Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff.

“We lost everything in the Madoff thing,” said Mr. Tancredo, who’s remarkably sanguine about his financial plight. “I thought for a while I was actually going to retire. Now I can’t.”

That’s why the 63-year-old former representative finds himself moving his life-sized Ronald Reagan and John Wayne cutouts, along with his other belongings, into a cozy first-floor office suite in this Denver suburb. A sign has been ordered, but for the moment, the door is adorned simply with a sheet of paper that reads: “The Rocky Mountain Foundation.”

Most people who find themselves cash-strapped and well into their AARP years might not opt to found a policy institute, but it was a natural choice for Mr. Tancredo. Before he was elected to Congress, he ran the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank based in Golden, Colo.

As founder and chairman of the state’s newest conservative outpost, Mr. Tancredo stays as busy as ever. On any given day, he does about five radio interviews, along with regular television appearances on programs such as Fox News and CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

He writes opinion pieces. He issues press releases. He needles Democrats. It’s almost like being a congressman again, except without the voting.

Given that the Rocky Mountain Foundation is Mr. Tancredo’s baby, it comes as no surprise that immigration is a top policy focus. During his 12 years in Congress, Mr. Tancredo became practically synonymous with the issue, pushing it into the national spotlight as he made his reputation as the Republican Party’s leading advocate of closed borders.

Though he’s no longer in Congress, he’s still the man on immigration. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent statement calling the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws “un-American” put Mr. Tancredo back at the top of every news producer’s speed dial.

“Nancy Pelosi is my greatest ally,” Mr. Tancredo said with a grin. “Every time she says something, my phone starts to ring. I’m still the go-to guy on immigration, and it’s great. I enjoy it, and that’s evidenced by our focus here. And there’s a lot of work to do.”

Last week, he invited Mrs. Pelosi to attend a pro-immigration “unity march” scheduled for May 2 in Greeley, Colo., and even sent her a dozen pink roses to sweeten the pot.

“It would be so fun to have her here saying things like, ‘You are so patriotic for breaking into this country. It’s un-American to keep you out,’” he said.

Other items on the foundation’s agenda are energy policy and individual-liberty issues. Beyond those, Mr. Tancredo has another goal: helping Republicans flip Colorado back to its pre-2004 status as a red state.

“I can’t stand the fact that this state has turned into a blue state,” Mr. Tancredo said. “I have to do something.”

In this case, doing something means going up against the powerful Colorado Democracy Alliance, a coalition that has funneled massive amounts of cash into Democratic races and liberal causes. Many credit the alliance for the Democratic gains and Barack Obama taking the state in November.

On the surface, it may not seem like a fair fight — a coalition led by of some of the state’s richest residents versus a guy who just lost his life savings — but Mr. Tancredo says Republicans can regain ground by taking a page from the Democrats’ playbook.

“If I thought that this was the Rocky Mountain Foundation versus the Colorado Democracy Alliance, I’d surrender,” he said, noting that Colorado Republicans may not be able to match the financial resources of the competition.

However, he said, the Republican Party has a trump card: its conservative principles.

“When you have people with the kind of money the Democrats have — we can’t compete with that,” he said, “but I think our ideas are better. Even if we don’t have the same size microphone, it doesn’t mean we can’t get our message out.”

Seeing how animated he is on the subject of politics, it’s hard to believe Mr. Tancredo was contemplating retirement, even when he thought he had a million bucks in the bank. Pressed on the matter, he admits he never planned to stop working entirely. He just hoped to slow down.

“It’s just that now I have to do it with a lot more fervor,” he said.