Former Rep. Allen B. West (R-Fla.) talks with the Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about his post-Congress career, why he has dedicated himself to creating a better world for the next generation of Americans and if he plans to seek public office in the future.
Allen West, a former Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army, followed in the footsteps of countless other great military leaders when he entered the political arena and won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives back in 2010. His transition into politics was a natural progression, he says. “Countless men who served in uniform have answered the call to complete their service to their country by holding a public office. When you look at post World War II careers, about 73 to 76 percent of the individuals on Capitol Hill have been in the military. It was an incredible privilege and honor for me to serve for 22 years to guard the institutions we have for liberty and freedom and democracy. I spent 22 years in the military and had been wearing a uniform since ROTC in high school. Service to the country was just a way of life for our family. My father is a World War II veteran, and my mother has about 25-plus years in civilian service with the Marine Corps. My older brother was a Marine in Vietnam, and my nephew is also in the service.”
Now this former soldier and politician has assumed a different role: TV host and leader of PJ Media’s brand-new NextGeneration.TV network. “Just because you retire and hang up your uniform doesn’t mean your service has a statute of limitations,” he says, adding that, through weekly newsletters and alerts, Internet TV, live events, social media, and outreach programs, he and his colleagues will help grandparents, parents and youth examine the issues confronting the next generation in the areas of America’s economic future, educational pursuits, employment, safety and security, and basic human freedoms.
Opportunist: Who influenced you to get where you are today?
Allen West: My dad and my mom. I had great parents and I would not be here today without their sacrifices, the lessons they taught me and their caring and concern. It is so important to have that stable family unit. When you look at the black community right now, people like my wife, Angela, and I—married for 23 years—represent a small percentage. There is a breakdown of families in the inner cities and horrible socioeconomic conditions and a high student dropout rate. My parents set me on this course, and that’s exactly what my wife and I seek to do for our two daughters, Aubrey and Austen, who are 19 and 16.
Opportunist: Why did you choose the Republican Party?
Allen West: I focus on the principles as opposed to the politics. Both of my parents were Democrats but conservative. If you think about it, the foundation of the black community is conservative—they are focused on faith and God and family values and strong education and military service. So, once again, believing in national service and fiscal responsibility, and having been raised as a very conservative guy, I found those principles were in line with the Republican Party.
Opportunist: You are heralded with saving American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars while serving on the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services. How did you do that?
Allen West: That’s what we are supposed to do. If we are up there as stewards of the American taxpayers’ dollars and we believe in fiscal responsibility, it is our duty to look for wasteful and redundant programs. I was very pleased to help save American taxpayers $350 million over 10 years. I believe in citizen servants who put the needs of the American taxpayer above their own needs. That is what Dr. Tom Coburn, U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, continues to do. His goal is to combat wasteful government spending.
Opportunist: You lost your bid for re-election to Democrat Patrick Murphy by a mere 0.7 percent. How did it feel to have to concede your seat?
Allen West: It’s not my seat. It belongs to the American people. That’s a critical point to understand. I am not a politician and I do not need the title of Congressman to be a principal leader in my country.
Opportunist: The media had a field day when your campaign discovered irregularities and called for a recount of early-voting ballots. If you had it to do over, would you still dispute the results?
Allen West: When you come up short it does kind of get to you, but I believe the most important thing that happened in that campaign was that we were able to stress the importance of the need for integrity in our electoral process. If we lose that then we become no better than Zimbabwe or any other corrupt government across the world. I am very happy we didn’t just roll over and play dead. We took it as far as possible, but it was not about me trying to have a seat. It was about making sure the right man would represent the constituency of our district.
Allen West: Well, I had a lot of options after the loss of my Congressional race. I talked it over with my wife, Angela, and my two daughters, Aubrey and Austen, and we felt this was the best way for me to have a voice. Next Generation TV is a great chance to try to crystallize the news in a way that reaches our young people and keeps us connected with the next generation.
Opportunist: What are some of the topics you cover?
Allen West: We cover a multitude of things: Economic security, national security, energy security, the situation in Syria, and what people don’t understand and the ramifications thereof. We talk about President Obama’s visit to the Middle East, the tax policy and regulatory policy and how that stymies small business growth. We also did a segment about Jim Carrey and what he thought was a funny parody and song about gun control that attacks Charleston Heston. Recently, we were at the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC] in Washington, D.C. I was one of the opening speakers and my cohosts and I went out during the day and did some interviews.
Opportunist: What is your role there?
Allen West: I am the oldest host on the show. My cohost, Michelle Fields, is 25, and John Phillips is in between the two of us. So, I believe we have a good continuity of age groups. I believe we are a good, strong news outlet that provides an opportunity for people to understand these complex issues.
Opportunist: You obviously have faith in the younger generations.
Allen West: The beauty of America is that we have always produced the next generation that continues the American dream and greatness. If we screw this up for the next generation, I don’t want to be in their hands. [Laughs] I believe it’s important that we maintain our promise to them. My parents were born in South Alabama and South Georgia in 1920 and 1921, and they wanted to make sure I had better opportunities so they sacrificed for me. It’s our responsibility to set the conditions and teach the younger generations to understand the true blessings of liberty and freedom and democracy so they don’t take it for granted and see it not as a right but as a true privilege to be a citizen of the United States of America.
Opportunist: Which of your accomplishments makes you the most proud?
Allen West: There are many different aspects of pride. Having worn the uniform of my country. My two wonderful and beautiful daughters. I had a sense of pride while working on Capitol Hill—especially when I would go for my five- or six-mile run down the National Mall and see the Capitol in the early morning glow, knowing that I came from the inner city of Atlanta to work for the American people in the legislative body that was the people’s house. To be a Congressman representing Palm Beach—the highest per capita ZIP code in America—and knowing that back in 1961 my parents could not even walk on the beaches that I now represented down in South Florida—all of that gave me great pride and was a humble honor for me.
Opportunist: When you’re not on TV or out on the political trail, how do you spend your time?
Allen West: I am just so happy that when I retired from the military I asked my wife, Angela, a child of a career military dad and now married to a career military guy, where she wanted to live and she chose Florida. [Laughs] She’s a brilliant woman with an MBA and a Ph.D, and she works as a financial advisor. We live in Palm Beach Gardens, about 12 to 13 minutes from the ocean. Florida offers so many great things besides the beautiful weather. I scuba dive as much as my schedule allows, and I hop on my motorcycle and ride around Lake Okeechobee. I am very happy to have retired there. This will be our home. I was born and raised in Georgia and went to school in Tennessee, which makes for some good fun and rivalry with my Gator friends. [Laughs]
Opportunist: How do you feel about the direction America is taking?
Allen West: I think it’s a horrible direction. Facts speak for that. There are certainly two philosophies of government in this country. There seems to be a belief in bigger government as opposed to a government that understand the limits of its scope and responsibility. We have massive amounts of debt, which has jumped to $17 trillion. We continue to run trillion-dollar trade deficits. Ten years ago gas was about $1.72 and today it’s about $3.73 a gallon. The number of people living in poverty is shocking. We have more people on food stamps than almost the entire population of Spain. During Ronald Reagan’s term, based upon some of his policies, we had 7.1 GDP growth. I don’t think we are even at 1.3 GDP now, and during the fourth quarter of last year we had negative GDP growth. All the things that are necessary to have a vibrant free market are missing, and I believe the American people are starting to see that it’s not the right path.
These are challenging times. Look at our national security and foreign policy stances, the turmoil in the Middle East and other challenges across the world and North Korea. We need to figure out who we want to be as a country and what we want to pass on to the next generation. About 45 percent of young people who graduate from college are unemployed. My oldest daughter is a sophomore in college and wants to be a doctor, and my younger daughter is a sophomore in high school. I am very concerned about what is going to happen in this country if we continue down this path. As Thomas Paine wrote in Dec. 1776: ‘These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." These are truly times for us to make a stand to make sure we pass something good on to the next generation. That is what I fight for.
Opportunist: How would you change things?
Allen West: We need a tax policy, a regulatory policy and a monetary policy that promotes regulatory growth. Manufacturing needs to find a home here in the United States instead of having policies that chase it away.
Opportunist: The 2012 election was difficult for the Republicans, and some have speculated about the GOP’s future. What are your thoughts?
Allen West: I believe the Republican Party is having a little soul searching right now to find out what they want to be. When they try to be a lesser version of the other party they not only confuse themselves but also America, and you see the results of that. Philosophically they are still the same, and I believe that in the end they will come back and be a better organization.
Opportunist: Will you ever run for another elected office?
Allen West: Not in 2014. As I always tell people, I believe God orders our steps. Proverbs 3:5 says: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.’ I truly believe that if we lean upon him he will guide our path. In 2007, I was just some guy coming back from Afghanistan. Who would have thought I would run for Congress and win? [Laughs] I was the first black Republican Congressman from Florida since Reconstruction. I try to be a good servant to this country. If the Republican Party needs a good catcher, I will do that. I want to be a voice of reason for my country.
Allen West: Yeah, absolutely. I go back to a quote from one of our founding fathers: ‘Nothing so strongly impels a man to regard the interest of his constituents, as the certainty of returning to the general mass of the people, from whence he was taken, where he must participate in their burdens.’ George Mason said that during the Virginia Ratifying Convention in June 1778. People have created all these mini fiefdoms and entitlements, but no one is entitled. That is one of the most critical things we have to change in our system of government.
Opportunist: Is the American Dream still attainable for younger generations?
Allen West: The American Dream is being threatened. There’s no doubt about that. The clock is ticking, and if we don’t come to the realization of what America represents as a beacon for us—and for the rest of the world—then we will lose that sense of American exceptionalism. I don’t plan to relent and I won’t back down. I will not be part of the first generation that says we lost the American dream.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in the Orlando area. Follow her on twitter at @les7989.