One of the more peculiar questions of 2011 as the 112th Congress gets underway: does Rep. Allen West (R-FL) want to get re-elected?
It may seem like one of those more obvious questions saddled with a bit of head-shaking ignorance and prognosticating shenanigan. But, it’s a fair question considering West’s actions to date – or more like his statements – before we even get into the heat of the new Congress.
It’s still cold on Capitol Hill, the votes haven’t started streaming in yet beyond the template swearing-in and ceremonial roll calls. And all throughout the holiday orientation there was West stoking controversy before there’s even anything to get controversial about. If it wasn’t West openly pontificating on the virtues of his acceptance of an invitation into the Congressional Black Caucus, eagerly setting up a scrape with the CBC as its only official Black Republican Member, it was his (suspiciously quid pro quo) hiring of controversial conservative talk show host Joyce Kaufman as chief of staff – and then her abrupt, very sudden forced exit before the session got started.
West, in classic fashion, had a mouthful on that episode claiming he “learned nothing” from it on a recent Sunday talk show. Instead, in a sort of bizarre anti-conservative tirade that made no attempt at the personal responsibility mantra Republicans famously push when launching all-out offensives on safety net “welfare” programs, West framed it as an “attack for the left,” calling them “misogynistic.”
Even as elected officials strain to tone it down in the aftermath of the Tuscon shooting, West is still going at it, lashing out at fellow Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) who accused him of being rhetorically responsible for recent events.
“I’m just glad I have more class, more character than she has exhibited,” said West.
The insults are the last you’d expect from someone who just got started interfacing with his colleagues or has yet to sponsor or sign on to any legislation. But, it also carries the aggravating ring of arrogance as if the Hill should stop all business and listen to West, who is sounding more like fingernails across a chalk board these days. Even though Republicans are the majority in the House, West would be wise to choose words carefully lest he not expect to make the occasional deal across the aisle. But, there is this vibe from the very green freshman that it’s just him and, perhaps, his Tea Party versus the world.
It’s an attitude that has no fans on the left and is, with each passing day, gaining few fans from the House GOP leadership, perhaps tired of watching West play sideshow on multiple talk programs to discuss Westisms rather than policy or the Republican agenda. In fact, they reportedly pushed for Kaufman’s resignation. And when newly-minted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) set a new schedule for Members to spend more time in their districts rather than in Washington, West blasted back and called it “time off.” But, wasn’t this the same West who nailed and defeated former Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL) for spending too much time inside the Beltway and not enough time with his constituents?
“Well, the thing is, as I sat down and looked at that congressional calendar back in December, 123 days of session, I had some questions about that,” says West in a recent NPR interview. “And I think that the constituents that sent me up here sent me up here not to just be a bandwagon follower, but to be someone that will challenge assertions and do that wisely and respectfully, which is what I did.
“So, you know, the thing is I think that the most important thing is to have that open communication with the leadership and this is not about being gung ho or brash or anything like that. It’s about being the son that my mother and father raised to stand up for the convictions and the things that you believe in.”
The problem with that statement is that his definition of “open communication” lacks any specifics or details on policy and is merely more political shrapnel and demagoguery from Allen West. Despite his disarming charm and beaming smile, the problem with the freshman from Florida is that we’re hearing little about where he stands on the critical issues of the day or what legislation he’s thinking about introducing.
We want to know more about West the lawmaker and less about West the loudmouth Black Republican, a role he seems to relish. But, we’re wondering if his constituents are beginning to think the same thing, wondering when he’ll start discussing their concerns rather than his ideology. At this stage, it would not be surprising if he finds himself staring at the barrel of an election challenge in 2012. If he’s not careful, he could turn into a one term legislator who never gave himself a chance to legislate.