By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Who could be surprised, really?
On one side you have freshman U.S. Rep. Allen West. A man who has not exactly shown an aptitude for self-editing. On the other side, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. A woman who has never shown a propensity for stepping lightly around anyone.
Two Floridians with a growing national reputation may be more familiar to CNN and Fox News viewers than to their own constituents. They’re forceful and opinionated, from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. One is the Democratic Party chairwoman and the other the national darling of the Tea Party. And they share almost the same home turf.
So, the surprise shouldn’t be that they got into a tangle. But rather, that it’s gotten out of hand.
The tussle grew last week out of the debate over raising the debt ceiling. West voted for a “cut, cap and balance” measure that would force the federal government to institute cuts to social programs, cap spending and benefits, and balance the budget.
Wasserman-Schultz said the plan would increase costs for Medicare recipients and, alluding to West, said it was “unbelievable from a Member from South Florida.” West, who wasn’t there when Wasserman-Schultz made the remarks (which apparently was a major source of irritation for West), fired off a response to Wasserman-Schultz’s personal e-mail.
He wrote, “You are the most vile, unprofessional ,and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up. Focus on your own congressional district!”
That might seem a bit extreme. But remember, West once described fellow Rep. Keith Ellison — a Muslim — as “someone that really does represent the antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established.” And he called President Barack Obama “a low-level socialist agitator” who had “third-world dictator-like arrogance” and spoke with “Marxist demagogic rhetoric.”
Those types of remarks have made Allen West who he is.
To opponents, it’s undisciplined, impulsive and offensive language. And that’s why they loathe him. To supporters, he’s speaking his mind. And that’s why they love him.
The conservative blogger introducing the video of West attacking Ellison remarked, “I can’t take it anymore. Every time I hear West speak the truth that I know and believe, I think I’m going to explode because he’s not my president yet.”
So if West had stopped at “vile, unprofessional and despicable,” the quarrel between District 20 and 22 Members might have been a one-day story.
But West got real nasty later in the e-mail. He used the L word.
“You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!”
By week’s end, the two had appeared on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. The Miami Herald traced the feud back to the 2010 campaign and Wasserman-Schultz’s allegation that West denigrated women because he wrote a column for a biker magazine. The St. Petersburg Times claimed it was emblematic of the political climate in Washington these days.
In her rebuttal to the e-mail, Wasserman-Schultz mentioned that West was actually one of her constituents because he lived in her district. And that became the stuff of more stories (he does indeed live in her district, but that’s OK).
Meanwhile, West used the skirmish to raise money. And Wasserman-Schultz’s colleagues — particularly Democratic women — rose to her defense. And then began using the skirmish to raise money.
There was reportedly an apology issued by West — that both sides promptly denied.
And finally, former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel has announced she’s running for West’s seat. She has set up an online petition alleging that “Allen West doesn’t respect women,” and demanding that he apologize and donate $1,000 to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
In other words, just another week in Florida politics.