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Rep. West Muses on D.C. Statehood, and Congressional Black Caucus

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By James Wright, Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer –

Rep. Allen West (R-FL) is the first Black Republican to represent his state in the U.S. Congress since Josiah T. Walls, who served during the Reconstruction Era.

One of the two Black GOP members of the U.S. House of Representatives said he is open to ideas regarding D.C. statehood and that he will be a full contributing member of the Congressional Black Caucus, despite his minority status politically in the group.

Rep. West, in an interview conducted by the Informer in his office in the Longworth House Office Building, said that he “does not know” whether the District of Columbia should become the 51 state in the Union.

“I have seen the license plates that say there should be no taxation without representation,” West, 49, said. “I have to do more research on the issue. The District of Columbia was designed to be the home base of the federal government so I would have to see what the Constitution says.”

West said that if District residents have obligations that other Americans have but do not have voting representation in the U.S. Congress then a tax exemption should be considered.

“If you live in the District, perhaps an exclusionary zone should be set up where District residents do not pay federal taxes,” he said.

West was elected to represent the 22nd district of Florida on Tue., Nov. 2, 2010. He defeated incumbent Democrat Ron Klein by nine percentage points in a district that is 82 percent White and three percent Black, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. West lost to Klein in 2008 by nine percentage points.

Before West got into politics, he spent most of his career in the United States Army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He retired in 2004 after an investigation of his conduct during the interrogation of a suspected terrorist detainee in Taji, Iraq.

West, along with Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), are the only Black Republicans in the 112th Congress. They are the first Black members of Congress from the GOP since J.C. Watts of Oklahoma stepped aside in 2003. West and Scott are products of the Tea Party movement, which calls for less government regulation and less taxation. The Tea Party movement was a driving force in the success of the Republican Party in the 2010 general elections.

West is a harsh critic of President Obama, saying that the president should be a “true” leader on race relations and that he should go to the theaters of combat when visiting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. A popular speaker on the Tea Party and conservative circuit, West is scheduled to be one of the key speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which will take place this week in the nation’s capitol.

West gained national attention after the general election when he said that he would join the Congressional Black Caucus. Most political observers were surprised at his move, noting that Watts declined to join the group because he did not want to be affiliated with a race-specific organization while a member of Congress.

West, who was born and raised in Atlanta, said he is puzzled about why people question him on joining the CBC.

“Why would I not join?” West asked rhetorically. “My parents would be upset with me if they knew I did not join. The CBC deals with issues I care about.”

West was welcomed into the organization by then CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) after a discussion by its members. The last Republican to join the CBC was Gary Franks of Connecticut, who served in the House from 1991-1997.

West wants to make sure that his liberal and moderate colleagues in the CBC understand that he wants what is best for Black people, but sees things differently.

“I would say that many Black people were raised during my time with conservative principles such as faith, getting an education, and individual responsibility,” he said. “I remember growing up in Atlanta and seeing Auburn Avenue with all of its vibrant businesses. The sad thing is that is not the case now and no one in the CBC is talking about that.”

He said that everyone in the CBC wants quality health care but they differ on the methods. Many CBC members feel that the government should play the chief role of facilitating and delivering health care while West feels that the free market can do a better job.

The participation of West in the CBC was praised by George Mason University political scientist Michael Fauntroy.

“I was slightly surprised when I heard it, but I think it is a good thing,” Fauntroy, 44, said.

Fauntroy said that West, like his colleague, Scott, is in a difficult position because they are freshman members of the ruling party of the House, whereas the other Black members of that body are Democrats, the minority party.

“Many years ago, Black lawmakers like Adam Clayton Powell and William Dawson would receive letters from Blacks all over the country because they were the only Blacks in Congress at that time so they were expected to produce for Black people,” he said.

“West and Scott are in a similar position in that they have to be the ones to produce for Blacks because they are part of the Republican majority but they have junior status so there is little that they can do.”

West said one of his goals is to widen the political reach of Blacks.

“We need to open up the conversation because Blacks cannot expect to have power in this country when they vote 90 percent Democratic,” he said.

“You cannot put all of your trust in one political party. I know that Blacks will not change overnight or become Republicans in large numbers overnight, but we have to have the conversation about this.”

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