When freshman Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., came into Congress at the beginning of the year, he carried the reputation as a flame-throwing tea partyer. But he’s proved to be a more subtle and complex House member than that caricature would suggest, Politico
On bills concerning spending, the debt-limit and flood insurance, he has voted against conservative orthodoxy and shown he isn’t averse to working with the House Republican leadership.
To be sure, that doesn’t mean West is completely abandoning his tea party buddies. For example, he opposes the House GOP leadership’s effort this week to extend the payroll tax cut. And West hasn’t abandoned some of his fiery rhetoric.
But he has demonstrated a serious, flexible approach to his job. West lets Republican leaders know where he stands on the issue, so that if he’s opposing them, they don’t learn about it in the media first. And when he does split from the leadership, he doesn’t go running to the media to bash them. West also is willing to take on conservative interest groups that he believes have excessive influence.
West says the media have had difficulty figuring him out.
“You guys in parts of the media needed a sensational story, and I a black Republican, first time from Florida since 1876 joined the Congressional Black Caucus. I guess there’s a story there,” he told Politico.
“It’s kind of like there was a new, shiny toy, a little lab rat that you wanted to poke and prod and figure out: ‘It’s a black conservative here in Washington, D.C. The people that try to treat you as some kind of oddity, that’s something I’m not really concerned about . . . Most people had this perception of me, coming up here and now, at a certain point, they’ve had to stop and say, that’s not really who this guy is if you sit down and talk to him.”
West has certainly impressed his colleagues in Congress. “He’s very sharp. He has a huge audience. He’s incredibly popular, I know, in Florida,” fellow Florida Republican Rep. John Mica told Politico. “He’s like a rock star. I’ve been here 19 years, and nobody knows who the hell I am. But everybody knows who he is.”
When West supported a debt limit increase during the summer, he faced heavy criticism from the tea party. He dismisses that as “a kind of schizophrenia I’m not going to get involved in.”
West is emphatic that he’ll make his own decisions. “If people start to get the sense that they can influence you from the outside, then they own you, you’re their boy, and I don’t want that,” he said.
West says he’s found his way since entering Congress. “That’s been the great evolution for me this year, really understanding that I didn’t come up here seeking to be subcommittee chair, but where can I find my strengths and being able to leverage those strengths as a first-time-ever-in-politics legislator,” he said.
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