The following is a condensed interview with Congressman-elect Alan West with Deborah Solomon which was published today in the New York Times:
When the 112th U.S. Congress is officially sworn in on Jan. 5, two black Republicans will be among the new majority in the House of Representatives. Do you think the G.O.P. has made progress in attracting African-Americans to the party?
One thing that you guys aren’t talking about is the fact that there were 42 African-Americans that ran on the Republican ticket in this election cycle; 14 made it to the general election, and 2 of us were elected to the House.
Right, you from Florida and Tim Scott from South Carolina.
I think that there is a changing wind. There are black conservatives out there, and their voices need to be heard.
Like other Tea Party candidates endorsed by Sarah Palin, you came from a nonpolitical background. A longtime Army officer who rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, you retired in 2004 after being investigated for firing a handgun close to the head of an Iraqi policeman during an interrogation. Is that correct?
Yes, I did that, but let me tell you what happened. I went through what is called a nonjudicial punishment, where I was fined $5,000. I redeployed from Iraq, and I retired with full rank and benefits and an honorable discharge, and that’s the end of it.
Do you consider President Obama a good leader?
Do you think those in the military respect him?
I don’t know, you gotta ask guys in the military, but I will tell you this: I think that going in in the middle of the night doesn’t show leadership.
Are you referring to that recent three-hour trip to a base in Afghanistan? He needs to consider his own safety, doesn’t he?
Leaders lead by example, and if I’m asking my young men and women to go out there and puttheir lives on the line, I should be willing and able to do the exact same thing. As I told my soldiers when I was commander in Iraqin 2003, the most expendable person in our battalion was me.
Didn’t George W. Bush go in for a surprise visit to Iraq under similar circumstances? Remember the platter-of-turkey photo op on Thanksgiving Day?
I’m not saying that’s right, either. I’m saying that my understanding of leadership is a little bit different. Leadership is about being a servant first.
Even though you’re a Republican, did you feel a sense of pride when President Obama was elected?
I don’t look to a man to get pride in myself. It’s not about having a black president, it’s about having a good president, and I think that’s the most important thing. This country needs a good leader, and I don’t care if he’s purple or green but yes, there are some people that saw in him a sense of pride.
Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said last year that blacks don’t have a reason to vote Republican because Republicans haven’t given them one.
I think that there are some objective criteria that you can look at that Chairman Steele needs to try to work through.
What made you become a Republican?
When I retired out of the military, I registered myself as a Republican because my views and perspectives were more in line with that party.
You were raised in Atlanta, in a military family of Democrats, and were the middle of three boys. Are your wife and two daughters Republicans?
After all of the crap that I was put through in this election campaign, I don’t think they’ll be liberals any time soon.
What do you mean by crap?
When you turn on the television and people are accusing you of being a member of a white outlaw motorcycle gang and saying that you run drugs and deal with prostitution, I think that’s a little bit over the top. My opponent was very nasty.
You haven’t started your new job. But you probably feel ready to retire.
No. I have not yet begun to fight, as John Paul Jones said.