Allen West, one of two black Republicans just elected to House, goes against grain
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 12:42 AM
Allen West, a 22-year Army veteran, is preparing for Washington a bit like he would for a battlefield. His "high and tight" hairstyle will be one of the only buzz cuts in Congress. He plans to carry a camouflage bag, not a briefcase.
And on a recent morning, while others in the Republican Party's large incoming freshman class jockeyed for office space, he declared himself largely indifferent.
"I've lived in tents," said West, who in January will become the first black Republican to represent Florida since 1876.
Since its last black lawmaker retired from the House in 2003, the GOP has been eager to elect high-profile African Americans. The party's desire to demonstrate inclusiveness has been especially pressing since the election of Barack Obama and the rise of the predominantly white tea party movement.
West is one of two black Republicans elected to the House this year. The other, Tim Scott, a longtime politician in South Carolina, was quickly drafted into the GOP leadership as a representative of the freshman class.
West brings to the party a strong personality and, with repeat appearances on Fox News and a spot this past Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," a profile that many incoming members of Congress would covet. But he's also an unpredictable force, inclined to be an outsider - even within the GOP.
In an interview, he said he doesn't admire anyone in Washington.
On the campaign trail, West found support among anti-establishment groups, including the tea party and motorcycle clubs. He briefly hired as his chief of staff Joyce Kaufman, a local conservative talk radio commentator. She resigned amid controversy over inflammatory comments she made, including disparaging illegal immigrants and referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as "garbage."
West responded by saying he is "even more focused that this liberal, progressive, socialist agenda, this left-wing, vile, vicious, despicable machine that's out there is soundly brought to its knees."
'Truth in boldness'
West, 49, sees himself stepping to the front lines of an ideological war in which he is fighting liberals who want "a country that creates victims where we enslave the American spirit," he said.
Cris Kurtz, the leader of USA Patriots, a tea-party-affiliated group in Tulsa, likened West's influence in the movement to that of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who has sometimes bucked his party's leadership. Kurtz described West as "awesome" after hearing him speak at a Kansas rally to support U.S. troops imprisoned for killing Iraqis in violation of U.S. policy.
"He speaks truth in boldness,"Kurtz said.