An interview with Allen West, candidate for Congress in Florida

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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There’s not a single black Republican in Congress today, but Allen West could change that if he wins his election this November. The Sarah Palin-backed veteran running for Florida’s 22nd House district says, however, that this fact is not very important.

“It is not so much about me running for a certain claim or to make some sort of historical moment,” West said in an interview with The Daily Caller.

While he suggested his skin color isn’t a factor in the contest, the Republican did say “it is very important to show that the black community is not a monolithic group of individuals — that we do have a different philosophy of governance.”

And even though the Congressional Black Caucus is made-up of all Democrats, West suggested that he’d try to become a part of it if elected. “I think I have every right to. I would be in Congress, and I would be black and so I should be able to sit with them, and again, bring a different perspective.”

The last black Republican to serve in Congress, J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, chose not to join the CBC. But West says “someone needs to stand up and say something different… because they can’t just be the sole voice.”

West, however, is not optimistic that the CBC would be very welcoming. “Now, I really presume that the CBC will just change their name to preclude me from joining it, but that’s ok, I’ll start my own caucus,” he said.

A record number of black Republicans are running for Congress this year. Among the group, both West and another GOP candidate, Tim Scott in South Carolina, are seen as having the best chances of being elected.

But West has his work cut out for him. He’s facing Democratic Rep. Ron Klein in a rematch after losing to him in 2008. He thinks a change in circumstances — both politically in the district and personally for West — will put him over the edge this time. After announcing his candidacy in 2007, West said he had to return to Afghanistan for 6 months, so he had a late start in introducing himself to the voters.

“Whenever people ask me what did I learn from the last election cycle, the only thing I learned was I needed more time,” he said.

West suggests that people know him better now and his Tea Party message is resonating.

As for when he decided to throw his hat into the political arena, West said he was courted to run for Congress while he was in Afghanistan as a civilian advisor to the Afghan army. “A couple of people I had met sent me an email over there and asked me when was my next break. And when I did come back home, they planted a seed in my head about possibly running for office,” West explained.

That was years after he made news, as the battalion commander of the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq in 2003, for using harsh interrogation techniques on an Iraqi detainee. West fired a gun close to the man’s head. In his book on the Iraq war, “Fiasco”, Thomas Ricks noted that Marine Gen. James Mattis, who was recently nominated to replace Gen. David Petraeus as commander of U.S. Central Command, suggested that the incident showed West had “lost his moral balance or [had] watched too many Hollywood movies.”

Yet it’s an incident that West says shows the type of person he is.

“When you look at what happened in Iraq, the only thing that that tells you is I’m a person who will put my career and my personal comfort behind if it is about the safety and the lives of my men in combat,” he said. “I think that’s the lesson to learn — not some cowboy type of Jack Bauer persona.”

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