Tancredo slightly charred at Arapahoe GOP roast

Nevermind that the traditional season for Lincoln Day celebrations had long passed or that the guest of honor for this event had been out of office for the past six months... Arapahoe County Republicans managed to pull off a fun and festive affair last Saturday night as they roasted (and toasted) the former congressman from the 6th Congressional District, Tom Tancredo.

Guest of honor Tom Tancredo is flanked by event chairs Mary Wenke, left, and Andi Allott, right.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Held at the Red Lion Hotel in Aurora, close to 200 GOP partisans — including a bevy of candidates from around the state — shared in the hilarity as a handful of characters threw zingers and generally had fun at the expense of Mr. Tancredo.

Oh, and did we mention that during all the shenanigans, a baggie of supposed marijuana was flung into Tancredo’s hands by roaster Patty Calhoun, the editor of the alternative weekly Westword, as proof that the conservative ex-lawmaker now supports its use for medicinal purposes and otherwise?

(For the record, and so Attorney General?John Suthers, who was in the audience that night, doesn’t have further kinniptions, it was, we assume, clumps of oregano in that plastic bag.)

The roasters were quite the eclectic little group, featuring conservative radio talk show host and newspaper columnist Mike Rosen who served as emcee, lawyer and fellow radio personality Dan Caplis, local GOP gadfly and grandfather of Arapahoe County Republican politics Mort Marks, entertainer and former chairman of the local GOP Bo Cottrell (whose sometimes over-the-top adlibs elicited more moans and groans than guffaws), and of course the token liberal, as she fully acknowledged, journalist Calhoun.

It was all in good natured fun.

Let us dispense with some of the stock barbs about the roastee.

From Mike Rosen, whose friendship with Tancredo dates back some 30 years: “What do you say about a man who is admired, revered and loved by everyone?

“I can start by saying he’s not the man that we’re featuring tonight,” deadpanned the emcee.

But Rosen’s political barbs were right on.

He resurrected the well known (and documented) story of George W. Bush advisor Karl Rove describing Tancredo in two ways. “You either hate him or detest him.”

Contributing to the rather frosty relations between Rove and Tancredo was that infamous incident a few years back when Tancredo, “in his typical diplomatic way, branded José Bush’s open door policy (on immigration) as a threat to national security,” Rosen reminded the audience.

“It was that very same Karl Rove who told him never again darken the door of the White House.”

But politics ebbs and flows, Rosen pointed out, and just six months later, Tom was invited back for the signing of the Sudan Peace Act which he had co-sponsored.

Mort Marks, Bo Cottrell, Patty Calhoun and Dan Caplis shared the honors of roasting their friend, Tom Tancredo, Saturday night at the Arapahoe County Republicans’ dinner.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“Of course they made him come in through the window,” cracked Rosen.

Tancredo was elected to the U.S. House in 1998 and in the general election that year, Rosen said, he was smeared by his Democratic opponent who ran a TV ad absurdly tied to a radical right wing supremacist militia.

Punchline: The militia group complained that this unfair linkage with Tom was hurting its image.

“It was never actually his intention to take on the issue of illegal immigration, it was an accident, a misunderstanding,” Rosen explained.

“What Tom and Jackie were really complaining about was their adult children moving back into their house as boarders.”

“On the subject of misubnderstandings, Tom was unfairly criticized for reneging on his pledge to serve only three terms in the House. He asked me to clarify that,” Rosen said.

“In fact, he never called for limiting the terms of office of elected politicians — when he spoke of term limits, he simply was referring to some of the names people were calling him. What he meant was, there should be limits on the terms used by his critics to describe him.”

Fortunately, Rosen concluded, his good pal Tom isn’t going to retire from the political scene — or from that matter from anything — any time soon.

“Thanks to my sage investment advice he’ll be working for the next ten years,” Rosen said, referring to his own spate of financial misfortune that knocked out most of his retirement savings.

Dan Caplis, host of the Caplis Silverman show on radio KHOW, approached the microphone in search of a cigarette lighter.

“Ever since Tom came out for legalizing marijuana, I figure I’d better check and see what kinds of plants these are,” he said.

“Are they decorations or his dessert?”

From Caplis’s repertoire:

• “Leaving congress has been quite a change for Tom. He’s used to such an exciting life, just stalking the halls of power, running for president... Now Tom’s idea of an exciting evening is sitting at home listening to the ringing in his ears.”

• “Tom was very upset to find out that his lovely wife Jackie has been washing his underwear in Miracle-Gro.”

• “A lot of people were surprised when Tom went out and decided to run for president. Apparently Tancredo was hearing this voice in his head telling him to run.

“The voice in his head,” Caplis said, was really Tinnitus.”

Westword’s Patty Calhoun, who has appeared with Tancredo on numerous TV political panels, reveled in assembling material for her time on stage.

“When you google Tom Tancredo, the computer literally smokes,” she said. “And then it spews all this fabulous material. This is one night the liberal media does not have to make stuff up. Tom just keeps on giving you much better things than you could ever make up. And we tried.”

Calhoun merely quoted from reality, she said, “because (its) funnier than any of those old jokes that were already used tonight.”

Her fun-loving tales included Tancredo’s rise in infamy as one of the “House Crazies” back in the late 1970s and early 1980’s while he served in the state legislature.

He was so hated by Gov. Dick Lamm at the time, Calhoun said.

Well known lobbyist and former Greenwood Village Mayor Freda Poundstone in a warm embrace with Tom Tancredo.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Awhile back, Lamm told one of her reporters that Tancredo had made his life truly miserable.

But years later, Lamm and Tancredo actually were in agreement on an issue: illegal immigration.

Calhoun recalled Lamm’s comment about being on the same side of an issue as his former nemesis.

“Even a stopped clock is right twice a day,” Calhoun recalled Lamm saying.

Calhoun rolled off a litany of other precious Tancredo moments, including the congressman’s description of Miami as a “third world country,” leading to the Capitol cops making him cancel his upcoming speech at Miami’s Rusty Pelican restaurant for fear that he would further incite the residents of the Cuban-populated city.

Of course, Calhoun would have been remiss if she hadn’t mentioned Tancredo’s use of illegal workers to renovate his basement in Lakewood — at the height of Tancredo’s rantings about illegal immigration in the country.

Mort Morks next took to the microphone, chuckling over the fact that this was the first time in his life that he ever followed a liberal.

He mentioned Tancredo’s refusal to join his other freshmen colleagues at the White House per invitation of then-President Bill Clinton. Tancredo disdained Clinton and so voiced his sentiments at the time.

“I hate to say it, but you’re so tacky you can glue yourself to a wall,” Marks zinged.

Bo Cottrell, who has manned a podium numerous times for roasts of political figures, said that as a former policeman, he was so excited that Calhoun had brought something (the “pot”) that could be auctioned off to help raise money for the party. The weed — or whatever — went for $250 and the money earmarked for candidate development — or whatever — for the Arapahoe Republican Party.

Cottrell directed anyone still hoping that Tancredo might take another stab at running for president to the new campaign web site, wwwfatchance.com.

When the roasters finally finished picking off the meat of Tom Tancredo’s bones Saturday night, the guest of honor — or maybe he should be called the sacrifice — was at a loss for a traditional rebuttal.

“This was so good and so funny, I really don’t think I can do anything that even comes close,” Tancredo chuckled.

But if the couple hundred guests at the Arapahoe County Republicans fundraiser thought the former congressman from CD 6 was truly at a loss for words, they were clearly mistaken.

“I know everyone thinks I get accolades and that its only fair that people rank on me and say all these nasty things, but really, it’s happened to me for a long long time,” he fessed up.

Tancredo provided guests with examples of Rodney Dangerfield-type ‘I don’t get no respect’ aspects of his life, including one time on a plane when fellow passengers couldn’t imagaine that he was a real congressman; another incident at a parking lot at Lowe’s home improvement store where he was carrying out supplies to fix a leaky toilet, prompting a woman to question his ability to do anything correctly; and finally a tale about buying a new Harley motorcycle, having trouble turning and parking the 900-pound Vulture, only to be shown up by a woman driving by on a similar hog evidently having no trouble at all controlling the monster cycle.

“I’m telling you this,” Tancredo said, “because tonight wasn’t necessary. I’ve been shot down so much lately.”

Tancredo acknowledged his race for president wasn’t close, “but it was a tremendous experience to be on that stage to try to advance an issue, an agenda. That was my purpose. I must admit to you, I never ever thought I was going to be president of the United States, but I did hope I could accomplish something by that last final act.”

Turning reflective, Tancredo said there were two special things that stood out during his ten years in Washington, even more so than running for president.

Tancredo emotionally recounted how four years before being elected to Congress, he was attending the Cherry Hills Community Church when the subject one Sunday was about the dire situation in the Sudan where hundreds of thousands had been murdered in a civil war.

That conversation stayed in his mind for the longest time, Tancredo told the audience. He felt at the time that there was something he was supposed to do regarding that horrific predicament so far away.

Later elected to Congress, Tancredo was asked his freshman year to serve on the international relations committee, and subsequently the Africa subcommittee. At the time, he recalled, well-meaning colleagues told him that it was one of the lesser preferred committees, partly because it was difficult for members to raise money from serving on such a low profile committee.

“But its something I’m supposed to do,” Tancredo felt.

“I kept talking about it, didn’t know what else to do, but knew there was a problem here we had to address. I had to do my best.”

Sen. Sam Brownback called Tancredo after the Littleton Republican had been in Congress for only two months, aware of his interest in the Sudan. He offered him the opportunity to visit the African country which was still riddled in internal strife.

The State Department warned the freshman representative that it was an extremely dangerous place, but Tancredo followed his calling and went.

In a little village, he told the rapt crowd Saturday night, he encountered a group of young kids whose mothers all had been killed. The people there were starving to death but would not slaughter their goats for food. Tancredo learned that it was because the goats apparently had an inate sense of detecting when approaching enemy bombers were on the way.

“The little kids were still around me, they kept yelling something. I can still remember their beautiful black faces, white eyes. What are they saying?” I wondered.

A translator told him that they were saying, ‘You’re from America, someone important,’ and they want to be close to you so they won’t get bombed.”

“That picture remained in my mind. I came back, did work, and the Sudan Peace Act passed,” Tancredo said.

Tancredo said it remains one of his most meaningful experiences from his time in Congress.

“When I think back about it, we actually did something there that I do believe saved lives.”

Tancredo also talked about driving home one night in the vicinity of Columbine high school, which is located in his district.

“I was listening to the radio, and heard the news that a bomb had gone off in a school in Russia.

“I said Jackie, (who has taught Russian to students), I think we should go, we need to go there. It just hit me that we were supposed to do that.

“Jackie said ‘let’s do it.’”

The state Department declared the bombing an act of terror by the Cheznian fundamentalists and said that the area was still very risky.

When Tancredo and his wife arrived in Russia, they were escorted in an armored car to a little town of 25,000 people.

“As we were driving by they were digging 600 graves. More than 300 children were killed by Cheznian Islamic terrorists. I brought a wreath from Columbine high school, and a sign where the high school kids wrote, ‘Our hearts go out to you, we know what its like.’

“It was still smoldering. It was deadly silent,” Tancredo continued.

“People were standing all around. I had this big wreath from the United States, and I stuck it there and the mayor came up and grabbed me. They knew about Columbine. They knew.”

“Life can give you all kinds of experiences, incredible experiences,” Tancredo marveled.

“You can be in Congress, you can be traveling the world over, you can meet famous people, run for president, but often times the smallest things end up meaning the most. And (they) will stay with me all my life, certainly.”

— JHS