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The Return of Tancredo

Tom Tancredo is back in the news. Tom is a man whose ego is so much larger than his intellect, that if he were a touch brighter he would be embarrassed to put either on public display.

Tom is in the news in Colorado because he demanded that both of the Republican candidates competing in the upcoming primary to be the Republican candidate for governor in Colorado withdraw from the race by high noon on July 26.

Tom’s demand was triggered by revelations that one candidate, Scott McGinnis had been paid $300,000 by a foundation for articles he had written that were largely plagiarized and the other, Dan Maes, using campaign funds reimbursed himself $44,837 for mileage for one year suggesting that, at federal mileage reimbursement rates, he’d travelled 90,000 miles around the state campaigning. (Relevant authorities did not believe him and he was fined $17,500 for that and other campaign violations.) Dan and Scott failed to withdraw and Tom is running under the banner of the Constitution Party that has, as one of the planks in its platform, the retaking of the Panama Canal. Now that he is a candidate it pays to remember the Tom Tancredo of yore.

When Tom ran for Congress in 1998 he said no elected official should hold office for more than three terms since we want to introduce “people into the system who think of government service as a temporary endeavor, not as a career.” He won. In an interview with the Rocky Mountain News in May, 2001, he commented on his pledge to serve no more than 3 terms saying: “I have no plans to break the pledge. It’s my intent to serve out my three terms if I’m reelected, and that’s it. . . . . When conquering heroes were brought back to Rome after a successful campaign, there was always a large crowd yelling his [sic] name or throwing rose petals. But by Roman law, a slave had to stand behind him in the chariot while holding the laurel wreath over his head, and had to keep saying to the general: ‘All fame is fleeting.’ Term limits are like that guy standing behind you.” Less than 17 months later Mr. Tancredo said to the guy standing behind him: “Get thee behind me, Satan.” The guy complied. The Lord stepped in in his place.

On September 26, 2002, Mr. Tancredo said the Lord had absolved him of his pledge and he might serve for more than three terms. He said his career was now in “God’s hands.” Talking to the same newspaper that had printed his pledge only 16 months earlier, he said: “You can characterize it as breaking a pledge.” Explaining the Lord’s involvement in his political career he said: “I believe I’m doing the honorable thing [breaking his pledge] by telling [supporters] exactly how I feel and what has happened to me over time. I do put it in God’s hands and I say, ‘Lord, I hope I’m doing what you want.'” In mid-April he announced he was running for a fourth term.

Mr. Tancredo does not place full responsibility for breaking his promise on the Lord. The voters, he thinks, approved it. Before the 2002 election, he sent a letter to supporters telling them he was abandoning his pledge to serve no more than three terms saying he thought ” term limits were a bad idea. There are certain issues you cannot do effectively [if you observe term limits.” He said he’d stay in office as long as he felt useful. Since he was reelected in 2002 he believed his broken pledge was of no matter to voters. He equated reelection with forgiveness.

In endorsing him in 1998, the Rocky Mountain News observed that Mr. Tancredo had been a leader of the term limit movement. It said: “We don’t expect him to start backpedaling like Rep. Scott McInnis” [a Congressman from Colorado who had reneged on his promise to serve no more than three terms and is now running for governor.] Mr. Tancredo didn’t backpedal. He got off the bike and pushed it over the cliff.

If Tom ends up running against Scott McInnis, the Republican candidate with the apparent lead for the Republican Party’s nomination, he and Scott may not agree on all the issues but they will agree on at least one thing. If prior pledges impinge on future action, ignore the prior pledges. Both Tom and Scott promised to honor 3-year term limits for members of Congress. Both men ignored their pledges when they figured out that if they honored their pledges they would be forced to leave Congress. Scott served six terms and Tom served five terms. What an honor it would be for Colorado to have one of those promise-breakers serve as governor. Who knows what other promises he would find to break?

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.

 

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