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Mouthing Off

Tom Tancredo’s “bomb Mecca” comment registered 10 on the Richter scale. But this Miami mess is no day at the beach.

Sometimes you feel like a nut. Tom Tancredo, Colorado's most notorious export, was at his office in Centennial last Wednesday, about to head for Denver International Airport, when he got word that his speaking engagement before the Miami Rotary Club -- the official topic was "Renewing America: The Need for Assimilation" -- had been nixed because of threats. Press secretary Carlos Espinosawas not so lucky: He was already en route from Washington, D.C., to Florida when the speech was canceled. And speeches by controversial congressmen weren't the only things canceled in Miami last week. Because of storms on the East Coast, many flights were, too, and "I was stuck in the airport for six hours trying to get back," Espinosa reports. Meanwhile, his wife was at home with their nine-day-old baby.

But then, no one ever said working for Tancredo would be a day at the beach -- or South Beach, for that matter. During the wait, Espinosa -- who'd actually left Tancredo's employ for a time, then returned like a moth to the flame -- had plenty of time to reflect on all the other times that Colorado's Sixth District congressman has fanned the media fire. The most memorable, he says, was Tancredo's 2005 "Bomb Mecca" speech -- although he never actually mentioned Mecca when he offered this answer to a question about how he'd stop terrorists from using nukes: "Well, what if you said something like -- if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites."

The press and politicos around the globe exploded over that one, which Espinosa gives a 10 on Tancredo's seismic scale. But he rates the current Miami mess at a whopping 9.5, since the media attention hasn't let up in the several weeks since Tancredo compared that city to "a Third World country" -- even though the congressman "has definitely said more controversial things this past week," Espinosa notes. Third most memorable is the John Salazar/Najeera Haq flap that started with Tancredo's supportive letter to the Pope(Off Limits, September 28) and ended with Haq being disappeared from Representative Salazar's staff. Then there was Tancredo's speechifying at a South Carolina confab where the audience sang "Dixie" ("Uncle Tom's Crabbin'," September 21), and his prescient call last year for Tom DeLay to consider stepping down -- which Espinosa says earned the congressman threats from the Republican leadership.

Most of the threats against Tancredo come from more far more reputable sources. That's why the Capitol Police will conduct a threat assessment to determine whether or not security is necessary for a Tancredo appearance. In the case of the Miami engagement, the Capitol coppers had determined that Tancredo would need coverage 24/7 -- which didn't deter Tancredo, but did concern the Rusty Pelican, the Key Biscayne restaurant that had come in for its own share of threats and wound up canceling the speech.

Tancredo says he's still game to talk in Miami -- if anyone in Miami will have him. In the meantime, the politician who's gone from being a "House Crazy" in the Colorado Legislature in the late '70s to being labeled a "nut" by Florida governor Jeb Bushdoes plenty of talking (to Peter Boyles and Westword editor Patricia Calhoun) on a special episode of Colorado Inside Out Live, which will air at 8 p.m. December 27 on KBDI Channel 12 -- but was taped the day before the Rotary pulled the plug. Scene and herd:Colorado's second-most famous export, Ward Churchill, was back in the news last week -- after the plug wasn't pulled on his December 11 speech at New York's New School University. The appearance came as a surprise to Bob Kerrey, the Vietnam vet who went on to stints as both a senator and a governor of Nebraska before becoming president of the New School. Still, he let the show go on, and wound up being called "a mass murderer and serial killer, to boot" as thanks.

In the war of the words, we'd bet on Tom Tancredo outlasting Ward Churchill. But do we have to be present to win?

 
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