‘Ugly’ Tone In Border Debates

“Ugly” tone in border debates

By Chuck Plunkett
The Denver Post
Article Last Updated: 11/15/2007 01:27:04 AM MST

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson lamented Wednesday night that the immigration debate has taken on “some very ugly undertones” and criticized Rep. Tom Tancredo as “an extremist.”

Richardson, who remains a second-tier candidate in the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, spoke with passion about his support for immigration policy reform, which he said needed to be resolved “not with fear, but with concrete, tangible steps.”

Richardson's comments responded to a reporter's question concerning a 30-second television ad sponsored by the Tancredo presidential campaign. The ad, now airing in Iowa, depicts the threat of an attack on the United States by Islamic jihadists and ties it to the country's current immigration system.

Traveling all day in California before a stop in Denver on Wednesday night to speak before the National Congress of Native Americans at the Colorado Convention Center, Richardson said he hadn't seen the ad.

Still, “Tancredo's tactic doesn't surprise me,” Richardson said of the Republican. “He's a one-issue candidate.”

Messages left late Wednesday with the Tancredo campaign weren't immediately returned, but the Littleton Republican has said he stands by the ads.

Richardson seemed exhausted, even as he expressed optimism about a new New York Times/CBS News poll of likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers that shows him roughly 13 percentage points behind front-runners Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards. That trio's support ranges from 22 percent to 25 percent, differences termed “statistically insignificant.”

Richardson repeated his support for a New Mexico law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, arguing that the measure is a public-safety issue that has reduced the number of uninsured drivers.

He declined to answer directly a question about his reaction to New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, dropping a similar measure Wednesday in the face of fierce opposition that also has engulfed Clinton.

“If I'm president … I would first pass comprehensive immigration (reform),” Richardson said. “I would not try to impose this (driver's license measure) on the states.”

Richardson supports new immigration policy that increases troops and agents on the border with Mexico, and allows for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already here to pay fines and work their way to citizenship, provided they pass criminal background checks.

Richardson said he was in the presidential race to win and has no plans to withdraw if he doesn't meet his goal of finishing in the top three after the caucuses in Iowa and Nevada and a primary election in New Hampshire.

“I'm not interested in any foreign post,” Richardson said. “I'm not interested in vice president. I'm not interested in secretary of state. I'll return to be governor of New Mexico, but I'm going to win the nomination.”

Chuck Plunkett: 303-954-1333 or cplunkett@denverpost.com