But Tancredo, who spoke on Saturday at a well-attended Tea Party rally in the Arizona town of Sonoita, about twenty miles from the border, also touched on attacks made against him by Dick Armey, once the House Majority Leader and now the driving force behind FreedomWorks, an organization that favors "lower taxes, less government, more freedom." At least twice this month, Armey has specifically accused Tancredo of hurting the Tea Party groups everywhere by using them to espouse his immigration views.
To that, Tancredo said, "It's really interesting what's happening in the Tea Party movement. Dick Armey's trying to take it over and influence it by giving it money -- which is always a good way to get somebody's attention. But what he doesn't want is me talking about immigration."
That's fair to say. As pointed out by the Huffington Post, Armey said the following during an appearance at the National Press Club earlier this month:
"The Republicans -- when I was a Majority Leader -- I saw to it that Tom Tancredo did not get on a stage because I saw how destructive he was... Handle it with some sense of compassion and some sense of civility. The Hispanic-American is the most natural-born constituency for the Republican Party since the Black American was in 1965. And these guys are trying to blow it. Just do it right... There is room in America. If you love America, if you love freedom, love work, are willing to pay your way, pay your taxes and obey the law, you should be welcome in America."
Armey sang from the same hymnal during an appearance on Charlie Rose's PBS talk show. Here's the key exchange, as quoted by The Wonk Room:
ARMEY: I tell you, I was for example not really happy to see Tom Tancredo calling himself a tea party guy.
ARMEY: His harsh and uncharitable and mean-spirited attitude on the immigration issue.
ROSE: But what do you say to that? Do you speak out against that?
ARMEY: Absolutely have, and I've taken a lot of heat for it too. But first of all, we're a nation of immigrants and a wonderful tradition. People have marched with their feet to America looking for freedom. Our biggest problem in immigration is we have a dysfunctional INS. If the government would do its job with some degree of efficiency -
ROSE: So the enforcement idea is what you would like to see more?
ARMEY: I mean look you drive by any INS office in America, and the one I see is mostly in Dallas, Texas. At 5:00 in the morning you see a line of four blocks long of people who want to be here and be here legally that are having the window slammed in their face and callous indifference by an inept agency.
Regarding the National Press Club quote above, Tancredo said, "I don't know to which stage he was referring, but he couldn't keep me off this one" -- meaning the one in Sonoita. "I don't know exactly what prompted it. I suppose that I'd been asked to speak to the Tea Party convention in Nashville."
That appearance certainly spawned some negative stories -- particularly regarding Tancredo's thoughts about literacy tests for potential voters, which some commentators saw as a throwback to Jim Crow laws developed to prevent African-Americans from exercising their constitutional rights. In a subsequent Westword interview, however, Tancredo revealed that he'd gotten the literacy-test idea from an immigrant.
Given the negative publicity the Tea Party has received after reports about racial epithets being hurled at certain members of Congress who supported the health-care bill, Tancredo guesses that Armey's negativity toward him "probably has something to do with race. But my opinions don't have anything to do with that. They never have. I know why I do what I do and say what I say, and it doesn't have anything to do with that."
Whatever the case, Tancredo has no intention of steering clear of anyone with a Tea Party affiliation simply because he's not a Dick Armey favorite. "If these people ask me to come, I'll come," he says. "I've never asked for a single invitation to a Tea Party event. I've never asked them to let me speak -- and I've never been paid to speak, either. But if they ask me to go, and buy me a ticket to get there, I'll go."