By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Tom Tancredo, a former five-term Republican congressman from Littleton and one-time presidential candidate, this week switched his party affiliation to the American Constitution Party and announced a gubernatorial bid. The Colorado Statesman caught up with Tancredo for a half-hour interview over the phone on Tuesday as he was headed to the Secretary of State’s office to file paperwork for his run.
In the governor’s race this fall, Tancredo will face Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, the Democrat, and the winner of the August 10 Republican primary between former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis and Evergreen businessman Dan Maes, unless the GOP substitutes another candidate on the ballot.
The transcript that follows has been edited for clarity.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Colorado Statesman (CS): How are you? Are things good to talk now?
Tom Tancredo (TT): Yeah. I am almost to the Secretary of State’s office, where I’ve got to go and I will — I’m in the car, so I’m just trying to figure out — well anyway, let’s do it, then I will just switch from the car to walking and that sort of thing. So let’s go ahead.
CS: Okay, what are you doing at the Secretary of State’s office?
TT: I have to file all those papers. We have to file the candidate statement, the — Can you hang on a minute? Geez Louise, this is going crazy here. (Tancredo takes another call for about 30 seconds)
Okay, sorry about that.
CS: You were saying you’re headed for the Secretary of State’s office, filing some papers for your candidacy?
TT: Yeah, yeah, the (American) Constitution Party has got to file their stuff where they have taken a vote, you know, taken the other folks off, the other gentleman off, put me on. I’ve got to file an Affidavit of Candidacy. You know, it’s all this kind of junk.
CS: All the paperwork?
CS: Today is the first morning you woke up and you weren’t a Republican in many, many years.
TT: That’s true, you’re absolutely right.
CS: How did that feel? You’ve been a Republican most of your life, haven’t you?
TT: I have, but I must admit to you that party affiliation, to me, is really not all that meaningful, I suppose. Maybe over the course of the last five years, I suppose — at least, maybe before that — but for least five years, the actions of the Republican Party in the Congress especially, the Republican president, has left me in a situation where it’s just not a big deal. I’ve attacked it so often, I have been chastised by them so often. And even before this, I was never the party favorite, you know? Party leadership never liked me, never liked what I said, always felt I was a lightning rod that was — so it’s not all that significant.
CS: How exactly did this happen? Did you approach the American Constitution Party or did they approach you?
TT: I approached them.
CS: What was the spur for setting all this in motion?
TT: It was all — everything that happened to Scott McInnis.
CS: Okay, so just in the last couple of weeks, this hadn’t — you'd been considering this before that?
TT: Oh, yeah, yeah, it was what happened — I mean, I think the first time we met was 10 days ago. Maybe more but I think it was 10 days ago.
CS: So you’re ramping this up very quickly? I heard that you’d hired a couple of campaign managers, or got a couple on board?
TT: No, no.
CS: I heard Bay Buchanan and Steve Durham were going to be handling things, is that right?
TT: Well, no. I mean, Bay Buchanan will absolutely be involved. She will probably be in charge of fundraising. Steve probably just no more than — you know what consigliere means (laughs)?
TT: That’s probably it, but not campaign manager, I don’t think. He’s got a lot to do too, in his job. No, we’re not there yet, there’s nobody. I mean I’ve got little Jen (Jennifer Raiffie, Tancredo’s communications director), she’s been volunteering, she’s —
CS: — she’s been getting no sleep —
TT: — And getting no sleep whatsoever, God love her. I mean it’s just amazing. I don’t know how she stands — I don’t know how she actually, how she does it, with two or three hours sleep a night, good God almighty.
CS: What about yourself? Are you getting back in campaign mode?
TT: I had to get up early today, I hated it. So I’m doing my best.
CS: Have you done any — with getting such a quick start here, have you done any polling, any of the kind of things that campaigns do?
TT: No. The only polling I have yet seen is last night on — when I was doing the Fox 31 show. At the end of this little segment we did, like 10 minutes or something, evidently they had put something up earlier in the day, I don’t know when, and it said, “Would you vote for Tom Tancredo?” That’s all it said, “for governor.” And when at the end of this thing they turned the monitor around and announced that it was 68 percent who said yes, 30 percent said no and 2 percent said they didn’t know. And that is certainly not any scientific poll. I have no idea how many people were polled or anything else, but it was certainly surprising to me — I almost fell off the chair.
CS: That’s a strong show of support right out of the gate. You’ll have a national fundraising network in place, so you should be able to ramp up very quickly? Is that the idea?
TT: That is correct.
CS: How much do you expect to raise? What do you think this race will cost?
TT: I imagine a couple million dollars, that would be my guess. And I don’t know what — we raised a little over $3 million the last time (for his presidential run) and I would guess that we could probably get that done. I mean this race has already made national news — it was on the front page of the Washington Times. I guess the fight we had, that I had with Dick (Wadhams, the state Republican Party chairman, who got into a shouting match with Tancredo on the Peter Boyles show the morning before) — Hey, by the way, have you heard that he quit or got fired or something?
CS: Have I heard what?
TT: Have you heard that Dick Wadhams either quit or got fired?
CS: I haven’t heard that. I just looked on the Post blog and there wasn’t anything about that. Is that something you heard this morning?
TT: Yeah, I got an e-mail saying that he sent out an e-mail saying that he was — I mean not him, what’s that guy’s name, Ryan Call or something like that?
CS: Yeah, he’s the Denver County chairman. (Call is also legal counsel to the state GOP.)
TT: Okay, okay. Well he — somebody suggested — Oh, you know what, then that makes a little more sense. Somebody said they saw an e-mail from him saying, “Chairman.” Well, he is the chairman. He’s the chairman of the Denver County -—
CS: Yeah, he’s the chairman of the county party, yeah.
TT: That goes to show you how connected I am to the party. Okay, well never mind. They said that he sent something out saying that he was ready to announce it later, but I would imagine if this were true, there would be a lot more activity than apparently there is. So it’s another of those things on the Web that you see and it doesn’t — or hear on the Internet or something. Back to your question, which was what?
CS: The fundraising — how much you expect to raise and whether you’ll be able to do it effectively and quickly?
TT: Well, Bay tells me she thinks we can do it. And believe me, she’s the one that knows. She’s done this three times, or four times for presidential campaigns. We have a really good mailing list. I think that it looks pretty good to me.
CS: Okay. Well, do you have a running mate in mind?
TT: No. Do you? (laughs)
CS: Have you given some thought to that?
TT: Oh gosh, yes I most certainly have. But the thought I’ve given to it is, I should get a running mate. I’ve not had three seconds here in the last two days. And if you think about this, before, I mean — you know, that’s the thing, I know Dick Wadhams believes I’m doing this because I’ve had this secret plan all along to be governor. What did he call me, a “maniacal egotist” or something like that. We were thinking about making that into a T-shirt.
CS: It’ll fit on a bumper sticker?
TT: It will fit on a bumper sticker. (laughs) But the reality, of course, is that I was doing everything I could then for Scott McInnis two weeks ago and I did everything that his campaign ever asked me to do. I did everything that the party asked me to do, I did everything that Josh Penry asked me to do when he was in and I was supporting him. So no, I did not think about this, frankly, until all hell broke loose with this.
Do you know, by the way, who did that? I was told yesterday by a reliable source. I did not know this, but the Colorado Democracy Alliance — you know, that group —
CS: CoDA, yeah.
TT: CoDA. They had apparently sent I don’t know how many staffers down to Fort Lewis College where Scott (McInnis)’s papers are. And that they went through everything every day for months and pulled all this stuff out and brought it to The (Denver) Post (which published a story July 12 alleging McInnis had plagiarized articles written about Colorado water issues).
CS: I hadn’t heard that.
TT: It was a news anchorman who told me.
CS: They’ve certainly got an operation in place.
TT: Yes, they do, and that’s scary stuff when you know how much money they’ve got, and they can create stories if they need to, they can take anything. They’ve got the press on their side, and The (Denver) Post in particular, it is going to be a challenge, there’s no two ways about it.
CS: That’s a question — you haven’t run statewide, you ran from, let’s say a friendly legislative district and then from a congressional district where you had fairly easy re-election. You didn’t have very many real tough fights down there, did you?
TT: No, just the primary.
CS: So this kind of statewide scrutiny — you underwent that in your presidential campaign but that’s kind of different here, you’ve got what some would say is a better chance here than you did in the presidential (run).
TT: Oh well yeah, I mean, the presidential was certainly not anything that — I mean (laughs) never did I wake up a single morning and think, hey, I might be president of the United States.
CS: But you’ve woken up and thought you might be governor?
TT: Yeah, I think that’s much more feasible (laughs). A lot more feasible. For one thing, it is true that I’ve only won the 6th Congressional, but I will tell you that I have a better name recognition than most of the people who are seeking the office of governor, or even whose names have been mentioned as perhaps doing that. And the last time I saw it, it was more positive than negative. I must admit I don’t know whether that will play out after this little adventure we have embarked upon. But you know what? Got 100 days, I’ve got a good chance of raising a lot of money, so I think that, hey, all possible.
CS: Where are your (congressional) papers?
TT: I have shredded them all (laughs).
CS: You shredded them all?
TT: (Laughing) Absolutely. When I was leaving office, somebody said to me, “Where do you want to send your papers?” And I said, “Who in the hell would care one iota about my papers?” I mean it’s the oddest thing I’ve ever heard, that somebody has an ego that — I don’t know, it’s not just Scott (McInnis), lots of my colleagues, I guess, have sent them to colleges too. I just couldn’t imagine anybody would care — does anybody care what Tom Tancredo’s note to Fred, or something. But now you know it, it all turns out to be great (laughs). I mean we didn’t shred them because of that, I just shredded them because we shredded all the stuff. You know, moving the office, if there’s nowhere to put it, store it in boxes or — To tell you the truth, shredding is perhaps the wrong word because I have no idea if it was shredded or tossed or what, it’s that I never kept them.
CS: If by some circumstance what you described in your message last week — which was characterized as an ultimatum — the primary winner in the Republican race steps down right after the primary, what does that do to your campaign? If the Republicans do come up with a more viable statewide candidate?
TT: Well, here’s the thing. It will be very difficult for them to do that now that they have squandered the opportunity they had to put somebody else, or to at least get Maes and McInnis to say that they would indeed withdraw if they were behind. And then of course I wouldn’t be in the race, and there’s nothing to worry about, and the Republicans would be able to find someone that could win, hopefully. I would pray that it would be a good Conservative. It wouldn’t be me. That’s one thing I’m sure they wouldn’t do, and I wasn’t asking (for).
So but the problem is now I’m in it, and I’m in it and so the question for me is, and I think for them is, if the Republican that is nominated in the primary drops out, I think the questions for the Republicans is, will they support me? Why would they want to split the vote (laughs)? It’s the same question they keep asking me. At that point, if my candidacy is viable, and their candidate drops out, then we can get this — we can solidify. They don’t have to nominate me, they just don’t have to nominate anybody else.
CS: There’s certainly talk of splitting the conservative vote. Would it even be possible for a Republican to win, or will this turn out like Florida (Senate race), where it’s a race between the independent (Charlie Crist) and the major party candidate (Republican Marc Rubio). Is that — ?
TT: Yeah, and it looks like the independent has actually taken the lead, strangely. So hey, in this year — in this year, I’m telling you anything is possible. Anything.
CS: It sure seems that way (laughs).
TT: Yeah (laughs), that’s right. And I have a hell of a lot of better chance of winning in a three-way race than a Republican — at least those two Republicans do in a two-way race. I don’t know anybody — do you know anybody, really, who knows anything about politics who actually thinks that either one of those two guys could win a general election? I just can’t imagine. I know I’ve said anything is possible, but that, I don’t think that’s one of those things that is. Almost anything is possible. That’s not. I mean when you consider the amount of money that Dan Maes would have to raise from no sources — who’s going to give him money? When you consider the problems poor Scott has had, is having, that will be constantly made the front-page news for the entire campaign, if not by The (Denver) Post then by his opponent, Mr. Hickenlooper, I just don’t know how you could put this thing together. So I was hoping against hope, to tell you the truth, that somebody would take the offer and that the Republican Party could start the process right now, really, looking for somebody to replace them the day after the primary.
CS: The rumor is that the Republican Party has done that, and that RGA (Republican Governors Association) is involved — is that not what you’ve heard?
TT: No, I don’t know. I certainly know Dick Wadhams told me on many occasions that he wanted to get rid of them, but I don’t know to what extent that ever came to fruition.
CS: It sounds like we know two people who’ll be on the ticket, at least — you and John Hickenlooper. What are your thoughts about running against John Hickenlooper?
TT: I relish the opportunity. He is a nice guy, seems like a very affable guy. But in terms of his politics, I think he’s, of course, more of the same. He is a liberal Democrat. He will certainly be comfortable with the tax increases that have already been passed and will, who knows, ask for more? I don’t know. But he will certainly try to expand government and he’ll try to run a sanctuary state, as he ran a sanctuary city. So yeah, I certainly look forward to it.
CS: Have you met John Hickenlooper?
TT: Oh yes, yes.
CS: And you’re friendly? Is it a good relationship?
TT: Absolutely. And his wife, she — it was kind of an interesting thing. She wrote a book, and during the research for the book she kept coming to my office, and we had lots of interviews. And then one day — you want to talk about strange — one day I am in Iowa at a Grange Hall in the middle of nowhere during the presidential and I get out of the car to go in — the Republicans are going to be debating, there are a few of us, two of us or something — and here’s this lady with a baby in her arms. And she comes up to me and says, “You don’t remember me, do you?” And I said, “Well…” Because how do you — contextually? It just was so out of (context). And I said, “No,” and she goes, “Well, I’m Helen Thorpe (Hickenlooper’s wife),” and I said okay, what in the heck. But she said she was still doing her book research. And then she wrote this book and she gave it to me and I saw how many times I was mentioned in it, and I told her I wanted some royalties (laughs). I like her very much and I like him, I think he’s a nice guy. I really do think he’s a pleasant individual.
CS: Do you think that if it’s you and John Hickenlooper running — he’s declined, and his staff has declined, any opportunity to weigh in on what’s been going on on the Republican side, saying that they’re going to run a positive campaign. Will you guys be running a positive campaign, it’s not going to be attacking each other?
TT: Nobody knows what that means, that thing — a “positive campaign.” It’s really in the mind of the observer. It’s almost impossible to define. If you say, “You know, John has increased taxes X number of times in the City of Denver,” is that negative or positive or neutral? And it’s very difficult to claim anything like that. And I hope to the extent possible we don’t have verbal shootouts, necessarily. But campaigns don’t usually give you the opportunity to control that rhetoric.
CS: The Platform for Prosperity was part of the reason that you wound up supporting Scott McInnis after Josh Penry dropped out of the race?
TT: Josh and I both wrote it and took it to (McInnis) and yes, that is the reason why we both ended up supporting him.
CS: Will that be your platform for your run?
TT: You bet. Well, certainly a big part of it, you bet.
CS: So we might have the odd circumstance of two candidates running on the same platform?
TT: Right, it’s possible (laughs), with one being able to win and one not (laughs).
CS: There are some things in the American Constitution Party platform that have drawn some attention lately. Are you entirely on board with the ACP?
TT: We all know that party platforms are pretty much wish lists. And in the perfect world sometimes these things — well, I shouldn’t say that. Yeah, I have no qualms about running as a Constitution Party nominee and their platform is, for the most part, I think, certainly acceptable to me.
CS: As far as some issues that you’ll be talking about, will we be hearing a lot about immigration? You mentioned sanctuary cities and the possibility of a sanctuary state. Will that be a key element of your campaign?
TT: That would be my guess.
CS: What about some of the amendments on the ballot this year? The Personhood Amendment — the ACP is strongly behind that, is that something you’re endorsing?
TT: Personally, my point of view is that (the Personhood Amendment is) just the simple idea of life, is that it begins in the womb. I think it does.
CS: We’ve heard a lot from Scott McInnis’ campaign and John Hickenlooper too, who was a geologist before he opened his brewery, about the oil and gas regulations. Is that something you’ve paid a lot of attention to?
TT: Yes, I have. It is something that was devised by people who are anti-oil and gas, anti-the extraction mineral industry, to essentially drive them out of the state. It was successful, we’ve lost thousands of jobs and not replaced by, quote, “a green economy.” So yeah, I think it was a very big stink, it cost thousands of people jobs, it caused counties all over the state to be in even a worse fiscal shape than they were before. And it’s a stupid idea. We absolutely desperately need oil and gas exploration and production.
CS: Would your plan then be to just start over on those?
TT: It would certainly be to review everything that they did with the thought in mind that we will be able to undo the most onerous of those regulations.
CS: The American Constitution Party has some other candidates around the state. Will you be campaigning with them, or will you want a Republican legislature, if that’s your choice, to work with?
TT: I think that either one, a Republican or a Constitution Party person, would probably be, well, I know they’d be better than any Democrat, so either one is fine in that case. I just want conservatives and certainly I hope the Constitution Party does well. I don’t know that I have any — I’ve never had any thought about it, but I didn’t have any plans to do any campaigning for people. I think I’ve got a big enough task on my own here.
CS: Not planning on any big coattails?
TT: (Laughs) That’s right, no. Can you hold for a second?
TT: Okay. (Tancredo takes a call that lasts a couple minutes.)
Hello? I’m going to have to pull the plug on this right now. I’m sorry, we’ve got — folks got here from the Constitution Party and we’re going to have to go up and file our stuff.
CS: Okay. Thank you for taking the time today.
TT: Sure. Thank you. Bye-bye.