Republican Allen West was just elected to the House of Representatives in Florida’s 22nd district, defeating two-term Democratic Rep. Ron Klein. His first move since being elected is rather strange: he has hired a conservative talk radio host, Joyce Kaufman, to be his congressional chief of staff. “Her 20 years of experience on the political scene in South Florida (always as a radio host) will give me helpful insights and perspective,” West said. “As chief of staff, she’ll be my right-hand person.”
WFTL said in a statement that Kaufman will continue to work for the station but not as a host: she has been “retained as our Washington correspondent, with details on her new exciting schedule to be announced soon.”
Carol Dixon, counsel for the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, told ThinkProgress that she had not heard of Kaufman’s situation in particular, but said that generally this setup could be “potentially problematic.” “There may be potential confidentiality issues — some of the issues she’s reporting on may be gained by virtue of her House status. At a staff level it seems problematic,” Dixon said. The committee’s rules also say Kaufman must earn a fair market salary from WFTL, and refrain from using any office equipment for her radio duties.
As a Tea Party mini-star, West raised more money than any non-incumbent in a House race, making it the second-most expensive House contest in the country. He received major backing from the Republican Party and its major players — he was named a “Young Gun” by the National Republican Congressional Committee, was endorsed by Sarah Palin, and got a campaign visit from Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), the presumptive Speaker of the House.
West retired from the Army after facing a court martial for abusing an Iraqi man, and ran an unusual, bombastic and often offensive congressional campaign, frequently targeting Islam. “Islam is a totalitarian theocratic political ideology, it is not a religion. It has not been a religion since 622 AD,” West told an audience in March. A month earlier, he told supporters that jihad “is not a perversion” of the Quran — “they’re doing exactly what this book says.” West has also slammed “chicken” leaders who read “memos from the feminists,” and defended his outsized rhetoric thusly: “That’s how people talk. … And you can print that: That’s how men talk.”
One of the places West liked to talk was Kaufman’s radio show on WFTL in Florida, making over 100 appearances over the past four years. Like her new boss, Kaufman is also no stranger to offensive statements:
— She said Jewish people voted for President Obama because “they don’t embrace being Jews anymore.”
— She said Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan “looks basically like Ed Schultz in drag.”
— Discussing illegal immigrants on her show, she said: “If you commit a crime while you’re here, we should hang you and send your body back to where you came from, and your family should pay for it.”
— At a rally with West standing by, she said: “Calling illegal immigrants ‘undocumented workers’ is like calling a drug dealer a pharmacist without a license.” “There are people who want to change your way of life, and some of them may be your gardeners,” she said.
— She also blamed undocumented immigrants for pollution and disease: “We are destroying the environment in this country at an incredibly accelerated pace because of this group of people who have come to this country and have to live a very substandard existence. They don’t have mufflers on their cars. I mean, it sounds like silly nonsense, but it’s not. The cumulative effect is huge. They live, you know, 10 to a household; they bring disease with them.”
Kaufman must first clear the ethical hurdles, but if she does, perhaps it’s not so strange that West hired her.
Al Tompkins, senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, tells The South Florida Sun Sentinel that Kaufman’s appearances on WFTL may now open the station up to demands of equal time by a West challenger, under federal communications law.