OTR Interviews

Sen. Allen West: We've got to do a better job of communicating how conservative principles are aligned with African-American community

Rep. Allen West takes the pulse of the conservative black community at forum


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 23, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: 15.8 percent -- do you have any idea what that number means? That is last month's unemployment rate in the African-American community. And it is almost twice the national average. So what needs to be done about the unemployment problem? Today Congressman Allen West hosted the Conservative Black Forum. He joins us. Good evening, sir.

REP. ALLEN WEST, R-FLA.: Good evening. How are you doing, Greta?

VAN SUSTEREN: Very well. That unemployment rate is unacceptable. What can you do about it? And let me ask you a second question, which is why do so many African-Americans -- why are they not members of the Republican Party, your party?

WEST: Well, I think one of the things we have to do -- I'll take the second question first -- we have to do a better job of communicating how conservative principles are aligned with the black community, those values. As a matter of fact, at the forum today, former congressman J.C. Watts said something that was very poignant when he said that there are people that share our values and they stand with us on values, but they don't vote with us.

So we've got to do a better job of communicating those conservative principles and why they can help to eradicate that astronomical number of 15.8 percent unemployment. And once again, we talked today about those urban empowerment zones, going back to Jack Kemp and also something that Art Laffer talked about. We can focus on economic growth within our inner cities because America cannot be any greater than the sum of its parts.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, in terms of those conservative principles that are best addressed, in your opinion, to beat that 15.8 percent number down to a much more tolerable, reasonable number, even humane number, which of the four candidates who are running truly has those conservative principles best to address that particular problem, do you think?

WEST: Well, I will give Speaker Gingrich some credit. Even though some folks on the left side are trying to turn it into a race-baiting issue, he has recognized that issue as far as the amount of people that have been put on food stamps, the level of poverty, and also focusing on trying to have a dialogue with the African-American community. He has offered to go and speak before the NAACP about how we can get an economic revival and incentivize small business growth within the black community.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is race baiting? How do you define that?

WEST: I think race baiting really comes out when people are, you know, using the issue of race as a means by which to separate us and trying to draw attention such as what you heard Congressman Clyburn and also Al Sharpton saying that Speaker Gingrich was speaking in some secret, you know, race code or something of that nature, trying to draw attention to something that doesn't even exist and is not there.

And I think you saw in the 2008 election when people were really put back on their heels of asking any questions of candidate Barack Obama when he should have been vetted just like anyone else, like what we see right now in the Republican primary.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it isn't just Reverend Sharpton and Congressman Clyburn, 40 Catholic leaders and theologians have issued an open letter to the two Catholic candidates, Speaker Gingrich and Senator Santorum, warning them to, quote, "stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign."

Are those 40 Catholic leaders and theologians wrong or are those two candidates doing that?

WEST: Well, I would ask those theologians if their values are rooted in Christian principles or if their values are rooted in liberalism because I don't see anything as far as being racially motivated.

Let's speak about the facts, and I think that's what we have to be discussing here. And you and I talked about this last week, where we cannot have a situation in the United States of America where you believe that only certain people of a certain skin color can talk about a certain issue.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of getting the message out, in the last election, and many elections before that, the African-American vote is 95, 96, 97 percent Democratic. How do you intend to get your message out to a community that is -- well, it certainly has not been very receptive to the Republican Party?

WEST: Well, I think that the fact that you and I are talking about it right now is a great indicator. We had about four major networks there at that Conservative Black Forum. It was covered entirety -- in its entirety by C-Span. CNN was there. Black Entertainment Television was there. So that's the first step.

Thirty-three percent of the black community identify themselves as being conservative. So as Congressman J.C. Watts said, they share our values but they're not voting with those values. So we've got to break down that barrier.

VAN SUSTEREN: Care to wager what the African-American vote in your state, to the extent that it's going to go Republican in Florida, which one of the four candidates is most likely get that vote?

WEST: Well, I would not beg to try to, you know, look into a crystal ball on that. But I will tell you this. In the state of Florida, you have a black female lieutenant governor. And you have myself, the first black Congress member of Congress on the Republican side since 1876, I believe. So I think that we have historical connection.

I think that the fact that I can be a role model and I can continue to talk about these conservative values of limited government and how we can stand up for those hard-working American taxpayers and those families in every community. That's how we're going to make that connection.

VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman, thank you, sir.

WEST: Thanks so much, Greta.