Congressman-elect Allen West (R-FL), one of two African Americans elected to the GOP ranks of the U.S. House of Representatives during the 2010 congressional midterms, is already making headlines. After organizing a sensational campaign, West rode the Tea Party wave to victory with over 55% of the total vote, defeating incumbent Democrat Ron Klein for Florida’s 22nd District seat.
Though the conservative wave helped put West in office, he knows that Florida’s 22nd is not a guarantee for Democrat or Republican representation. He may end up having to play both sides of the aisle if he hopes to create a legacy that will enable him to stay in office beyond his first term.
Now, with congressional orientation already underway, the question remains: just how conservative will Congressman West be?
He’s showed early signs of staying true to his conservative base. Not only has West welcomed the support of the Tea Party, he also named ultra conservative talk show host Joyce Kaufman as his Chief of Staff. Though Kaufman will not serve in this post, one wonders why West would want to bring onto his staff someone who is known so well known for her racially charged and incendiary remarks.
Kaufman – a Florida ‘shock-jock’ by all accounts – has said that she is “convinced the most important thing the Founding Fathers did to ensure me my First Amendment rights was they gave me a Second Amendment.” She has also proclaimed that “if ballots don’t work, bullets will.”
West defended his choice of Kaufman stating, “I was not hiring a talk radio host. I was hiring a very brilliant political mind, someone that has been in South Florida politics for 20-plus years.” He was also very quick to defend Kaufman, saying that “the way that they went after Joyce Kaufman shows that…this liberal left has some issues with racism….[a]nd the fact that they’re attacking a woman like this, that shows me something about sexism and misogynist behavior.”
At the same time that he clings to his uberconservative base, however, West, unlike his counterpart Tim Scott (R-SC), has signaled an interest and willingness to join the Congressional Black Caucus, even going so far as to attend a CBC meeting last week.
West, who admits that he has different views than most sitting members of the CBC with respect to policy and programs geared toward helping the African American community, seems most interested in bringing a diversity of viewpoints to the table.
“One of the problems we see in relation to the black community is that we cannot have this monolithic viewpoint of victimization and dependency,” he said. “The most important thing is that there has to be a different perspective. There has to be a different voice. We cannot have this monolithic voice.”
Though, as reported by the St. Petersburg Times, West has “promised to bring the ‘left-wing vile, vicious, despicable machine’ to its knees,” we will soon find out whether his bark matches his bite. Will he stay true to his ultraconservative roots? Or will Congressman Allen West become a congressional game changer, akin to a modern-day J.C. Watts?
The story has yet to unravel, but given his behavior thus far, compromise just might be on the good Congressman’s agenda.