West delivers partisan speech to conservatives
PLANT CITY - U.S. Rep. Allen West stirred up a friendly, conservative crowd with a partisan speech Saturday night, making no reference to his flap this week with fellow Fort Lauderdale-area U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. West refused to take questions from reporters during the event. He ignored a question from a reporter about whether he might run next year against Wasserman Schultz, who is also national Democratic Party chairwoman. He lives in her district, but he represents an adjoining district. But the crowd, several of whom said beforehand they had read about the fracas and were interested in hearing him talk about it, didn't seem to mind not hearing about it."That's the future of the Republican Party," former Hillsborough County Commissioner Chris Hart said of West after the speech. Dee Williams, president of the Sun City Center Republican Club, one of several party officials present, said if West did run against Wasserman Schultz, "I'd go down there and knock on doors. I'm not too old." West gave a standard conservative stemwinder speech, with an apocalyptic view of the nation's future under President Barack Obama. He contended that heavy federal spending is endangering its future. "America is standing on a precipice with one leg dangling off the edge," because of debt, he said. His prescription included corporate tax cuts, which, he said, would being manufacturing jobs back to America, and cutting EPA regulations. Air and water quality regulations, he said, are "penalizing people for trying to grow." "But the most important thing — the Republican Party has to regain its credibility," he said, referring to the failure of GOP politicians to cut federal spending when they controlled Congress under former President George W. Bush. West, a former U.S. Army colonel, asked by an audience member about the abolition of the ban on openly gay people serving in the armed forces, said he opposed the move but it's too late to change. He said new recruits must conform to military standards. "When you take the military and you tell it they must conform to the individual's behavior, then it's just a matter of time until you break down the military," he said. He rejected the comparison to racial integration of the military. "Let me explain something to you," said West, who is black. "I can't change my color. People can change their behavior, but I can't change my color." West's war of words with Wasserman Schultz began last week after House floor debate on the Republican "cut, cap and balance" budget cutting proposal. West spoke on the floor in favor of the budget proposal, then left the chamber as Wasserman Schultz got up to speak. She criticized him and the proposal, saying it was "unbelievable" that a congressman from South Florida, representing thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, would support a plan that, she said, "slashes Medicaid … in favor of protecting tax breaks for big oil, millionaires and companies who ship jobs overseas." West in response sent her an email, with copies to House Republican leaders, calling her "the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the House of Representatives." He added, "You have proven repeatedly that you are not a lady." He later refused to apologize, and used the dustup for a re-election campaign fundraising email headlined, "Vile, Despicable, and Unprofessional … Those three words sum up my feelings about Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz." Wasserman Schultz also stood behind her words, saying, "It's not really surprising that he would crack under the pressure of having to defend" Medicare cuts and noting West lives in her district. Democrats also used the affair in fundraising solicitations. Members of the crowd at the speech unanimously sided with West. "I think he was actually very restrained. She deserves worse," said Desiree Cammardella of St. Petersburg. Fran Stacy of Brandon, attending with her husband and several children, including a three-week old baby girl, said she went to the trouble to come to the event because she heard West on the radio. "He stood out as a very strong, conservative voice," she said. The only mention of the dispute came from Plant City Mayor Dan Raulerson, an active Republican, who presented West a certificate of appreciation after the event, calling him "Congressman Captain America," and said jokingly, "I appreciate your use of freedom of speech." West's speech took place in the Arthur Boring Civic Center, a building on the Plant City Strawberry Festival grounds, owned by the festival association. Afterward, county Republican Party officials collected donations for West's re-election campaign, with donation envelopes on the tables in the meeting room.