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.