One thing all political observers are certain of now: Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., desperately wants to keep his job.
But, what’s equally unclear is why would Florida Republicans try to snatch it away from him?
There’s been much chatter about that from Washington, D.C., to the idyllic retirement corridors of Boca Raton and Palm Beach. It all started when the state’s Republican-controlled legislature took knives to the Sunshine State’s political map, effectively cutting the superstar cable news Congressman out of his own 22nd district by molding it into a Democratic stronghold.
But, that’s ok, says West, who simply plays the game back and decides to move into the newly drawn 18th district which is less Democratic than his current one. The new 18th contains a majority of voters from the 16th, which is currently overseen by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla.
“Congressman Rooney is a statesman and has been an honorable public servant to the constituents of Florida’s 16th Congressional district,” said West in a statement. “It is my goal to continue the success Congressman Rooney has had in Florida’s 16th Congressional district in the newly proposed 18th district. I welcome the challenges and excitement that lie ahead.”
Still, West’s sudden and very forced move seems peculiar for a number of reasons. First: Republicans like to win. While still feeling comfortable about their prospects for maintaining a majority in the U.S. House this November, Republican hacks shift uncomfortably at a number of general polling indicators. House Democrats were celebrating a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll that showed voters would support a Democratic candidate over a Republican candidate in their specific district by 4 points: 48 percent to 44 percent.
And as the Republican presidential primary drags on, with the candidates engaged in an ugly meat grind of nasty campaign ads, debate dramas and rhetorical gaffes exposing the party’s bigoted underbelly, observers point to a GOP image problem. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich slugging it out over national airwaves only weakens the eventual nominee — and strengthens President Obama’s position in November.
For Republicans, Florida is all-important. An amateur strategist would assume that the state GOP would do everything in its power to keep a grip on its majority of Congressional seats in a critical battleground state. Right now, out of 25 House seats in the palm tree and hurricane state, Republicans hold 19.
And while that’s a comfortable majority, why risk losing one when voters could get finicky, take it out on Republicans and vote all the way down a Democratic ticket?
It’s a risk the state’s GOP leadership either missed or deliberately dismissed in remapping West’s Democratic-leaning 22nd. Sources say it wasn’t an accident. A Republican strategist close to national and state leaders, speaking to the Tribune on condition of anonymity, says “West is being hosed.”
“He’s becoming a liability. He makes the state look bad, and, frankly, he’s attracting a bit too much negative attention to leadership on and off the Hill,” snorted the source. “That’s why they like Scott — he’s quiet and he’s easy to get along with.”
That comment adds another interesting angle for Republicans, continually smarting from the lack of diversity in its Congressional ranks. West is one of two African-American Republicans in the current Congress; the other is Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., a fast rising star who is rarely found on cable talk shows, but was just picked as one of GQ Magazine’s “50 Most Powerful People in Washington” — after less than one full term.
Scott was one of only two Black people on that list, a slight not missed by longtime Black politicos (some thinking about a quiet boycott of GQ). And, he’s not an official Congressional Black Caucus member.
If Republicans have a diversity problem, why would they actively seek to cut the number of Black Republicans in Congress down from a paltry two to an embarrassing one?
The question becomes a bit more peculiar, considering Congressional Republicans find themselves in a fundraising crunch compared to their Democratic counterparts: Allen West is one of the party’s most prolific fundraisers. He ranks #19 on a list of the Top 25 Republican fundraisers during the 2011–2012 period, raising over $2 million dollars. He is the only Black member of Congress to make the Top 25 list for either Democrats or Republicans; with the exception of President Obama (who topped both Democrats and Republicans with a $46 million official pull last year), West is the only African-American elected official to make that list. Herman Cain, who suspended his presidential race in early December, was the only other African American, despite the fact he is not an elected official.
West has the numbers, and he has the national voice and following. Why crucify him with a redistricting pen?
Insiders point to West’s mouth as his biggest problem. Each day brings another controversial, off-the-cuff comment from the conservative firebrand. He is more popular for his rhetorical fire bombs and sling shots across the partisan aisle than he is for groundbreaking legislative accomplishments. And, a larger problem is that he loves it. While signs point to Republican leadership eager to tone down the acerbic messaging and move away from controversial statements that make the tea party element giddy, West still pushes the envelope, from constant Molotov cocktails about “Blacks on the Democrat plantation” to unloading a freestyle torrent of talking point missiles at Democratic National Committee Chair and fellow Floridian Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schulz, D-Fla.
“We need to let President Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and my dear friend the chairman of the Democrat National Committee, we need to let them know that Florida ain’t on the table,” said West, unloading yet again on favorite tea party bogeymen and women. “Take your message of equality of achievement, take your message of economic dependency, take your message of enslaving the entrepreneurial will and spirit of the American people somewhere else. You can take it to Europe, you can take it to the bottom of the sea, you can take it to the North Pole, but get the hell out of the United States of America.”
He might as well have ripped off his shirt, beat his chest and did a 2004 Howard Dean Iowa imitation when he added amid cheers: “Yeah, I said ‘hell.’”
That’s the kind of political “hell” that makes establishment Republicans squirm — just like they’re doing now as the GOP primary battle drags on with insurgent former House Speaker Newt Gingrich now the party stepchild. Others point to former governor and current frontrunner Mitt Romney as a prominent anti-West source, too. Romney wants a clean, no-drama campaign if he can help it, and tea party candidates like West are unpredictable. And with tea party polling numbers dropping as more Americans are blaming them for unnecessary gridlock in Washington, country club Party of Lincolnites are trying to play it cool, slowly finding ways to quietly disassociate themselves from the rabble rousing “Don’t Tread on Me’s.”
“Get ready for the all new GOP, under the lead of Mitt Romney. It’s a GOP where the tea party won’t be welcome, where the federal government will continue to bail out banks and unions and everyone who’s anyone will continue to make money — except of course you and me,” said TownHall.com’s John Ranson, reflecting an uneasy mood among conservative hardliners that Romney is already controlling the party factions.
In the meantime, West is not as crazy as his rhetoric lets on.
There is pure political calculation when West publicly makes enemies, a perpetual campaign stump in a quest to paint himself as the Washington outsider. It’s a balancing act based on his need for support from the national tea party grassroots, an apparatus that accounts for a large chunk of his money, as 56 percent of his campaign contributions come from sources outside the district.
But, it’s also a way for West to reestablish ties with a tea party rank and file that had soured on him in the past year as he not only joined their archenemy Congressional Black Caucus, but he also voted for Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. West was showing signs of becoming a real legislator, and the tea party wants unapologetic activists on Capitol Hill. He’ll need to refurbish his tea party bona fides as a way to get both their money and boots-on-the-ground support come November.
It’s a question that comes up every time you hit the home page of the Republican National Committee’s website: Where are all the Black Republicans?
Only a year after celebrating the last days of its first African-American chair, the RNC is fairly light on Black faces these days. What was once, especially during the ’90s, a fairly aggressive photo-op promotional strategy strung together by a small network of die-hard Black political consultants, former elected officials and partisans, is all but dead. While it did little in the way of yielding any results comparable to Democratic counterparts, there was a sense — leading up to the election of Michael Steele as party chair — that some progress had been made in mending the often bitter relationship between African Americans and the Republican Party.
Now, as a bloody Republican primary carries on, the GOP appears smitten with the Latino vote. Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are bending over backwards, and breaking the bank, to connect with Latinos — looking for every conceivable angle to attract skeptical Brown voters turned off by a wave of anti-immigration sentiments. And the RNC happily trotted out a Director of Latino Outreach in January, eagerly announcing the move in a gritty effort to snatch Hispanic voters away from Democrats in what observers expect to be a grueling November election.
“The RNC will place staff on the ground across the country to coordinate the GOP’s Hispanic effort as part of a program to make sure Barack Obama is a one-term president,” said RNC Chair Reince Preibus when introducing Betinna Inclan as the point person for Republican Latino strategy. “Latinos play an integral role in our communities, and the Republican Party believes it is essential to involve Latinos at every level of our Party’s efforts in 2012.”
Meanwhile, the move angered a number of Black Republicans who were already feeling left out in the cold following the abrupt downfall and forced removal of Steele in 2011. Many continue to express disgust at the GOP love fest for Latinos, some out of concern that they have no other political home to turn to.
“You have no Blacks on staff at the Republican National Committee — or any of its other committees — and there are no Blacks on staff of any of the presidential campaigns,” snorts longtime Black Republican strategist and marketing expert Raynard Jackson. “But maybe after a few more electoral loses you will awaken to the most loyal customer you have ever had.”
Most politically active and prominent Black Republicans — and there are only a few compared to Black Democrats — are not as vocal about their displeasure with the GOP’s intense focus on the Latino vote. Most are quiet, some out of fear they might anger RNC bosses who are already stressed trying to keep a fractured party intact. But many are seething over what they view as a combination of betrayal and intrusion, a knife in the back from a Republican Party that was theirs from its Abraham Lincoln beginnings.
However, a source tells the Tribune that focus could shift back to Black outreach as the Romney campaign prepares to hire a senior advisor for that exact purpose. While the source would not give details on the timing of an announcement, it was clear the embattled former Massachusetts governor is thinking ahead to the general election. “We’re finalizing the details,” said the source. “But, we’re not completely there, yet.”
The reason behind that reluctance could reflect a larger sense of caution surrounding the primaries. There are still many more states to go, with the delegate-rich “Super Tuesday” on the horizon for March 6. With the Romney campaign nervously gauging the rise of Rick Santorum while smarting from triple losses in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota, it may be difficult to start thinking about the national scene while you’re still engaged in state-by-state trench warfare. Plus, finance reports are showing a Romney campaign low on cash and near tapped on donors. Do they even have enough to go the distance?
In terms of the Black vote, it’s much more complex than that. Much of it has to do with pure numbers — only 10percent of African-American voters, on average, vote Republican during any given presidential or congressional mid-term cycle. The only Republican in the 21st century to slightly defy that trend was President Bush in 2004 when he won just over 11 percent of the Black vote against Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. In statewide races, Republicans tend to garner 15 percent of the Black vote on average. In 2006, then Lt. Gov. Michael Steele was able to capture more than 20 percent of the Black vote in Maryland’s U.S. Senate race — but that was still very negligible for a Black candidate with extensive local roots and who never shied away from his Blackness.
Many Republican strategists and candidates alike are quick to attribute those dismal ratings to Black dismissiveness. “It’s hard. We get called ‘racists,’ but we’re expected to go out and do outreach with these people,” complains one veteran white GOP campaign expert who wanted to speak off the record. Visibly angered by the question, the senior aide to numerous Republican campaigns accused Black voters of “setting unfair expectations.”
Hence, Republican insiders point to the math in recent primaries. For example, only 2 percent of Black voters in South Carolina are registered Republicans. To make it worse, only 1 percent of South Carolina primary voters in January were Black — and that was in an “open primary” where voters of all partisan stripes can vote. In Florida, it was the same: only 1 percent. And, in Iowa (where there are sizeable pockets of African Americans living in such cities as Des Moines), Black votes didn’t even register on a significant scale.
The problem is two-fold. The Republican Party’s southern strategy in the 1960s alienated Black voters in the race for southern white and segregationist votes. This has led to the prevailing image of a political party either constantly attacking major Black policy priorities, or serving as the face of institutionalized political racism. But there is also the problem of African Americans refusing to force the two major political parties to compete for their voters. Most are fiercely loyal to the Democratic Party to the point where such affiliations are based more on personal considerations than political interests.
In contrast, Latino voters only lean 60 percent Democrat on average. In key primary states like Florida and Arizona, they represent 12 percent of the Republican primary electorate — a significant presence that warrants the attention of campaign strategists battling for every vote they can get. And a recent Cooperative Congressional Election Survey found 14 percent identified as Republican and a significant bloc, 19 percent, identified as “Independent.”
It’s that 19 percent that gives Republicans reason to believe they can compete for Latino votes in the general election against Barack Obama, despite recent anti-immigration rhetoric and legislation. The survey also found Latinos are more inclined to vote by race than party. With scores more Latino Republican elected officials than Black, Republican elected officials (there are no Black, Republican elected officials under the age of 40), the GOP figures it has a better chance chasing after Brown votes than Black ones.
Political strategist and former congressional candidate Princella Smith argues that because African Americans vote “lopsidedly Democrat — 80 percent to 90percent of the time,” the Republican Party fails to see any prospect of a return on the investment. “Why should I campaign to a community who will reject me as soon as I get to the front door?”
Ron Thomas, a Black Republican and former senior advisor to Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s, R-Minn., failed presidential bid, agrees, quickly arguing that the GOP’s enthusiastic focus on Latino voters should be something for Black Republicans and African Americans in general to worry about. “I have a bottom line philosophy: You have to have tensions on both sides of the aisle. We’re the only culture where we don’t make the political parties compete for our vote. Until we decide as a people that we’re going to do that, we’re going to stay in the same situation we’re in right now.”
I’ve decided that if there is anyone in the entire country who might inspire me to be more supportive of the re-election of Barack Obama and other Democrats — just because they’re Democrats — it’s Allen Bernard West, the Republican.
Don’t pretend you don’t know who he is.
West is the first Black, Republican Congressman elected in Florida since the Reconstruction Era, in 1876. He’s the Black Conservative representative from that state’s 22nd Congressional District, where the registered voters are 82.3 percent white, 10.7 percent Hispanic and 3.8 percent Black.
He’s the guy with the graying military buzz-cut hairstyle, who always seems to have a scowl on his face, always seems to talk tersely, and who brags a lot about having once been an officer in the U.S. military. He’s also notable as a Black elected official because he rarely, if ever, has a kind word to say about anybody who happens to be Black.
If you’ll recall, Rep. West is the guy who said his only interest in joining the Congressional Black Caucus was to have an opportunity to convince the other members of the error of their political ways. He’s the same Congressman West who, after joining the CBC, famously referred to his fellow Black Congressional Representatives as “Overseers on a 21st century plantation.” He’s the man who threatened to resign from the CBC, in August of last year, because he disagreed with another member’s use of language.
As strange as this all seems, politically, this all seems to be working for the brother — so far.
In fact, from the outside looking in, it appears that Rep. West is enjoying himself, immensely. In his own version of “West World,” it seems, he never has to hesitate to speak out forcefully about any subject — even when he’s dead wrong — and especially when the topic is Black people.
Take last week, for example, when Congressman West appeared as a speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), in Washington D.C., and spoke, he said, in commemoration of Black History Month.
As part of what became a West-trademarked scathing attack on the Democratic Party, he also felt compelled to describe the federal government’s support of programs for economically marginalized citizens as a form of modern-day “slavery.” West seems, somehow, to have a special obsession about slaves, overseers and plantations. Curiously, he even makes his home in a place called Plantation, Florida.
During his remarks, at CPAC, West noted that he and other members of the Republican Party were fighting to prevent Black Americans “from being trapped in a permanent underclass through dependence on government handouts.”
At that point, I imagine, with the overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly conservative audience applauding West, because he was saying all the things they, themselves, actually wanted to say, he thought it appropriate to add: “We reject the idea of the safety net becoming a hammock.”
Damn, I guess he thought that was really clever — safety net — hammock.
Then, in a master stroke of political doublespeak, the former soldier-turned-political-fire-bomber, concluded with: “For this reason, the Republican value of minimizing government dependence is particularly beneficial to the poorest among us.”
Let me make sure I understand that: The poorer you are, the more you can appreciate and respect Republicans for cutting off your food, water and housing. Is that it?
Moving briskly, then to the heart of his Black History Month focus, West then said: “the more they come to rely on government checks, the less they learn to rely on their own ability and ingenuity.”
I’d like to hear Representative West explain that to a family of four in America today that has to live on $68.88 per week for food, under the Federal Food Stamps program. At what point do you give these poor, hungry Americans, Congressman West, a lecture about their own ability and ingenuity, when they already know, from experience, that there is only one job opening in America, these days, for every four to five job-seekers?
How do you rationalize a campaign to destroy what’s left of the “safety net” when 40 percent of the country’s unemployed have been looking for a job for at least six months?
What made West’s ill-informed comments even worse was that he cynically tried to imply, as many in his circle generally do, that the need for “welfare” payments, food stamps and the like, are something that’s peculiar to Black folks.
Once, again, the Congressman is wrong.
One of the principal things that West and his arch-conservative brethren seem not to comprehend is that the issue of “handouts” is certainly not Black-specific. In fact, the federal government’s food stamp recipients were 34 percent white, 22 percent Black and 16 percent Hispanic, in 2010.
All of that notwithstanding, the most egregious fault of West and his colleagues lies in their total unwillingness to understand that the people in this country who actually do receive the most government “handouts” are those who are the direct beneficiaries of large federal contracts, and multi-billion dollar bailout packages that are issued every day, most of whom are decidedly not Black.
For example, the top five contractors that received federal contracts, in 2009, alone, accounted for $294.6 billion. In just the categories of aerospace and defense contracts, they included Lockheed Martin at $38.5 billion; Boeing, at $22.0 billion; Northrop-Grumman at $19.7 billion; General Dynamics at $16.4 billion and Raytheon, at $16.1 billion. By comparison, the TANF, or “welfare to work” program, for an entire year, is budgeted at $17 billion.
While we’re on that general subject, let’s not forget that neither the $800 million Financial Services “handout,” nor the $747 million Stimulus Program “handout” included very much, at all, in the way of African-American business participation.
“Get up off your butts, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and start a business,” West and his fellow tea partiers say to Black Americans.
Well, that was a dicey proposition, somehow, for Black folks, even prior to the Great Recession.
In 2007, Black-owned firms generated just $137 billion, or about .45 percent of all American businesses revenues. Even more disturbing, 97 percent of Black-owned businesses generate less than $250,000 per year. Clearly, we still have some critical issues that have yet to be resolved before we allow ourselves to believe that entrepreneurship, alone, in what is still a too-racially influenced society, is anything near a panacea.
So there you have it: Allen West’s condescending and treacherous remarks on the one side, and the actual facts on the other.
What is there in the Allen Wests of the world that contributes to their palpable sense of self-loathing? What has happened in their life experience that causes them to want to perform for and entertain in a shameless, near-minstrel kind of way, for hard-hearted audiences that have no love, whatsoever, for Black and diverse people? What satisfaction can an otherwise well-educated man possibly gain from saying out loud the things that even the most cold-blooded race-baiter wouldn’t have the nerve to bring up in polite company?
Unfortunately, Allen West is not entirely unusual among Black public figures. For every Harry Belafonte, Maya Angelou or Common, there seems to be at least two Allen Wests.
Here’s something that we’ve got to do in this New Year: Let’s find out, once and for all, what causes this phenomenon. Let’s work to prevent or correct it, at all costs.
If not, it seems to me, we, as African Americans, will be hard-pressed to find political or economic success at any point in the foreseeable future.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. Allen West said he believes 75-plus House Democrats are members of the Communist Party, a claim that echoed Joe McCarthy's unsubstantiated 1950s charges that communists had infiltrated the top ranks of the U.S. government.
Addressing a town-hall meeting Tuesday in Florida, the freshman lawmaker was asked how many members of the American legislature are "card-carrying Marxists." West said "there's about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party." He did not provide names.
West's office said Wednesday that the congressman stood by the comments and was referring to the 76 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the largest group within the House Democratic caucus.
"The Communist Party has publicly referred to the Progressive Caucus as its allies," said Angela Melvin, a spokeswoman for West. "The Progressive Caucus speaks for itself. These individuals certainly aren't proponents of free markets or individual economic freedom."
West's office cited a May 2010 article on health care that appeared in the Communist Party USA pre-convention publication that described the Progressive Caucus and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., as allies of the party but not members. The article, however, carried the disclaimer that Communist Party USA "takes no responsibility for the opinions expressed in this article or other articles in the pre-convention discussion."
Reps. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the co-chairs of the caucus, rejected West's claim.
"Allen West is denigrating the millions of Americans who voted to elect Congressional Progressive Caucus members, and he is ignoring the oath they took to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution — just like he did," the two said in a statement. "Calling fellow members of Congress 'communists' is reminiscent of the days when Joe McCarthy divided Americans with name-calling and modern-day witch hunts that don't advance policies to benefit people's lives."
Grijalva and Ellison said West "repeatedly polarizes the American people instead of focusing on their interests. When people like Rep. West have no ideals or principles, they rely on personal attacks."
The caucus, founded in 1991, includes 75 House members and one senator and describes its goals as economic fairness, civil rights, environmental protection, energy independence and global security.
The Palm Beach Post first reported the congressman's comments.
During the Cold War, McCarthy, a Republican senator from Wisconsin, claimed that communists and Soviet spies had burrowed their way into the federal government. He never produced the documentation to back up his claims. -- (AP)
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Tea party firebrand Rep. Allen West conceded his re-election fight Tuesday, two weeks after the election gave way to court appearances, two partial recounts and unending accusations by his camp that the vote count wasn't fair.
In a statement, the Republican freshman said "there are certainly still inaccuracies in the results" but not enough to change the outcome, giving the race to Democratic newcomer Patrick Murphy.
"While a contest of the election results might have changed the vote totals, we do not have evidence that the outcome would change," West said.
Murphy campaign manager Anthony Kusich said he was not aware of any concession call to his candidate, simply an e-mail that was publicly distributed. In his own statement, Murphy said he was "humbled by Congressman West's gracious concession" and eager to get to work on behalf of all voters.
"To those who supported my opponent, my door is open and I want to hear your voice," Murphy said. "I campaigned on a message of reaching across the aisle to get things done for the people of the Treasure Coast and Palm Beaches, and that is as important in this district as it is in Washington."
Murphy declared victory in the wee hours of Election Night and has held his lead ever since, even as thousands of absentee, provisional and overseas ballots were processed and two partial recounts undertaken. But West's campaign kept up a stream of skepticism about the results, largely focused on St. Lucie County, where elections officials acknowledged missteps.
An initial recount of some early ballots in St. Lucie gave West a slight bump. His campaign fought for a fuller recount, and received it, but it only improved Murphy's margin of victory. He won by more than 2,000 votes.
Many have speculated West could find a new career in the place where he has been frequently seen, on cable television, but he has not said what his next step will be. "Only God knows what is in store for each of us," he said in his statement, adding that "I will continue to fight for our republic."
Whatever the next step, the contest between Murphy and West will go down as one of the most expensive in congressional history. Murphy eked out the win though he was out-fundraised more than four-to-one.
West, 51, is a favorite among the most conservative reaches of the Republican Party. He has made a string of headline-grabbing statements, from calling a majority of congressional Democrats communists to saying President Barack Obama, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and others should "get the hell out of the United States."
Murphy, 29, portrayed West as an extremist who had done little else in Washington than stoke partisan fires.
In his concession statement, West offered congratulations to Murphy, saying "I pray he will serve his constituents with honor and integrity, and put the interests of our nation before his own." -- (AP)