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Is Bill Owens Back in the '08 Game?

On Monday, Colorado Governor Bill Owens signed what has been called the toughest set of immigration laws in the country. The centerpiece of the twelve bills, HB 1023, requires those receiving government services to provide proof that they reside in the United States legally. The governor's office estimates some 50,000 of the one million people currently getting benefits from the state of Colorado are illegal immigrants. Critics assailed the new laws as "reprehensible," but the Denver Post noted yesterday that state offices reported "few glitches and fewer complaints" implementing the new procedures and that an expected rush of filings from immigrants seeking temporary waivers "did not materialize."

Conservatives are generally giving Mr. Owens high marks for his leadership on the issue. The stricter immigration measures, which Mr. Owens said would be his last legislative act as governor, came after he called the Democrat-controlled legislature back into a special session in mid-July. Don't be surprised to see his triumphant orchestration of the immigration legislation rekindling talk of Mr. Owens' political future as well.

Mr. Owens was touted as a rising GOP star and potential contender for the 2008 nomination after winning a landslide reelection in 2002. But a surprise separation from his wife of 28 years in late 2003 raised some questions, as did his support for a referendum in 2004 to repeal the ratchet provision of Colorado's taxpayer bill of rights, allowing the state to quickly increase spending.

Mr. Owens has given no indication he's serious about mounting a White House bid, and with a decent-sized field of GOP candidates already actively raising money and building organizational support in key states, time is running short. But this week's success on immigration may serve to remind certain Republicans that a popular, two-term governor from the West with a solidly conservative record might not be such a bad choice as a running mate.