Newcomer Takes Aim at Tancredo
Cindy Rodriguez, DenverPost.com, Mar. 3
She’s a political newcomer with little name recognition and a penchant for suits that were trendy a decade ago.
Still, Joanna Conti — a chemical engineer turned entrepreneur turned advocate for Third World orphans — gets rousing applause when she speaks before groups, pronouncing, “I’m going to send Tom Tancredo packing!”
Hefty talk coming from a woman who just last year was a registered Republican.
But the Colorado Democratic Party welcomed her as if she was a long-lost daughter.
That’s because the party desperately wants to be rid of Tancredo, a man they say is an embarrassment to the state of Colorado.
Even conservatives say Tancredo is living in his own private Idaho with those outlandish proposals of his.
Tancredo once suggested that the U.S. put a wall of soldiers along the southern border to keep Mexicans out.
Last year, he asked the local office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to keep agents stationed outside of the Mexican consulate in Denver and whisk away anyone who didn’t have papers.
His bills rarely make it out of committee, and he brings very little money back to his district. As Republicans go, he’s the scourge of the White House and is ostracized by most of his party’s leadership.
After Tancredo denounced President Bush’s immigration policies, he told the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call that Bush political adviser Karl Rove scolded him on the phone for 40 minutes and told him “never to darken the door of the White House again.”
At a fundraiser in Colorado last year, Bush introduced all of the Republican politicians in the room — except Tancredo.
At one point, there were rumors that the Republican Party would try to find someone to face off against him. But that hasn’t materialized.
“He makes Pat Buchanan look like Pat Schroeder,” said Michael Huttner, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Progressive Network. “If you do a Google search using the terms ‘Tancredo’ and ‘racist,’ you’ll get something like 800 websites.”
Let’s just put it this way: The dislike of Tancredo outside his district is a nationwide phenomenon.
So along comes Conti, a candidate who has barely gotten a mention in the newspapers but is slowly gaining momentum.
Carlos Espinosa, Tancredo’s spokesman, calls her a candidate “with a lot of potential” and says Tancredo is taking her run as a serious challenge.
But it’s not going to be easy for her. Conti has raised more than $100,000 so far — not bad for a newcomer. But it pales in comparison to Tancredo’s $500,000 — about half of which he saved from the 2002 election.
Conti estimates that she’ll need to raise three times that amount, $1.5 million, to beat Tancredo. TV commercials are the only way to get her message out, she says.
She wants voters to know that she is a fiscally conservative moderate who believes in having strong foreign policy. Tancredo’s agenda is so far off, she says, that it makes her question whether he knows, or cares, that unemployment is rising and that school budgets are shrinking.
“I got a copy of his annual report at the end of last year,” Conti told me over breakfast Tuesday. “It has 16 items listed. Fourteen of them started with ‘I fought for this’ but failed. The only thing that made it into law was that he renamed a visitor’s center in Arizona. How does that help people here in Congressional District 6?”
Conti talks like a winner, saying she can win against an incumbent in a suburban Denver district where Republicans outnumber Democrats 2 to 1.
We won’t know for months if the hype will translate into a win at the polls. She says she has got to get her name and platform out to the voters. She wants them to know that she is concerned about rising unemployment, lack of health insurance, global warming and the performance of public schools.
She said she wants to make it a requirement that all people get health insurance, especially young, healthy people. When everyone is in the health care insurance pool, the costs become lower, she says, adding that she also wants to end the practice of high premiums for people with pre-existing health conditions.
She says she’s against open borders but doesn’t think all illegal immigrants should be sent back to the countries they came from if they are working hard in jobs that no one else wants and have proven that they are good citizens.
So far, she said, she’s getting a positive response from just telling people she’s running to unseat Tancredo.
“I’ve met a total of seven people who have said, ‘Tancredo is my congressman, and I’m proud of it,”’ Conti says. “He’s far more vulnerable than people think. I think there’s widespread belief that he’s an embarrassment.”