Tom Tancredo: HuffPo is wrong about me questioning Arizona immigration bill

A blog from the Huffington Post yesterday certainly sports a grabby headline. It reads: "Tom Tancredo Says Arizona Immigration Law Goes Too Far, Still Supports It."

The problem with this take, which has replicated rapidly across the web in the last 24 hours? According to Tancredo, it's completely inaccurate.

"Russell Pierce, the guy who ran that bill, is a good friend of mine," Tancredo says from a plane on the tarmac in North Carolina, where a partial walk-out of attendees during one of his speeches yesterday spawned another flurry of stories. "I sure don't want him to think I'm bad-mouthing his bill. Because I'm not."

The apparent root of this misunderstanding is a Channel 31 piece in which assorted Coloradans are quizzed about the Arizona immigration measure. Among them is Tancredo, who shares a brief comment in the video package at the above link. However, an extended passage in the text version reads:

"If I had anything to say about it, we'd be doing it in Colorado," smiles former Republican Colorado Congressman Tim Tancredo.

Tancredo applauds the law in that Arizona took control of enforcing laws the federal government hasn't enforced.

But he questions how police can stop people for any reason. "I do not want people here, there in Arizona, pulled over because you look like should be pulled over," says Tancredo.

He suspects police in Arizona will only pull people over for breaking the law. But they could already do this before the new law.

The HuffPo blog references Channel 31, so this section is presumably the basis for the aforementioned headline. But Tancredo says the point he was making has been misunderstood.

"I've said I would never vote for a bill that would allow police to simply pull someone over because of the color of their skin," he maintains. "And who would? Well, maybe someone would, but I'm not one of them. But that's not the bill in Arizona. I totally support the bill in Arizona.

"Here's how I understand what the bill says. Someone comes in contact with local police or the local authority. Say he runs a red light, he gets caught driving erratically, driving drunk, gets called in for a disturbance -- something happens. And the police ask for an ID, and it looks fake, or there's something else that makes the officer suspicious. Maybe you can't speak English in combination with an ID that looks fake, or something like that. I don't know all of the criteria. But that's what gets fleshed out. It's not simply because of the color of your skin. So I support that, just like I support the rest of the bill."

At the same time, Tancredo is sympathetic to comments made by various Arizona law enforcement officials who complain they don't have the resources to do everything the bill demands of them. He puts the blame for that circumstance squarely on the federal government.

""This is something they shouldn't normally have to do," he concedes, "but the situation has been allowed to fester for so long that measures like this are inevitable reactions to it."

The spark this time around was the late March murder of rancher Rob Krentz, a friend of the former congressman. Indeed, Tancredo was supposed to meet with Krentz around the time he was slain near the Arizona-Mexico border and even tweeted from the location where he died.

Why does he think Krentz's killing has had such resonance? "We've had people killed before by illegal immigrants in Denver, and in every state in the nation -- but a lot of times it's been drunk driving or something like that," he says. "But this was a murder, the murder of a local rancher, and something about it really captured the public's attention like no event has done up to this point in time, no matter how ugly they've been." He says this response makes him feel that something good has come out of a terrible event, "and I'm sure his family does, too."

Regarding Tancredo's speech yesterday, it took place at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Last April, a Tancredo address there had to be aborted due to what he described at the time as a "small riot." Since then, he's been eager to return and have his say. Here's his account of what happened yesterday.

"There were probably 400 people in the audience where I was speaking, and there was also some sort of spillover room where people were watching on TV monitors -- so let's say there were 500 people there. And in the first two rows were approximately fifty people, and at about twenty minutes into my speech, they screamed something unintelligible and then stood up and walked out. And I went on with my speech."

Afterward, the protesters "apparently went out into some sort of student gathering area and had a party and spoke," Tancredo says. "The young lady who took me to the airport said they were protesting, but most of them were yelling things in Spanish, so nobody understood it. They did that same thing at American University. They came in, probably 500 of them, and all sat there and held up signs in Spanish. I know the point they were trying to make, but I'm not sure they got their message across."

In Tancredo's opinion, the most recent UNC protest "was great -- it couldn't have been better from my standpoint. You could see what these quote-unquote students and their professors, who were with them, were all about. They have a fear of debate. If you're not secure in your own position, if you think you can't defend it, then these are the kinds of things you do -- you scream, you yell, you walk out, you don't let anybody else talk. And that does no good for the side that's so disruptive. They showed me who they were, and then I got to give my speech. So it worked out perfectly for me."

Unless something else is taken out of context, that is.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts