New CEO wants to make NCPA America’s think tank
by Cheryl Hall
June 27, 2015
Allen West, the new CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis, has a simple idea for reshaping the conservative Dallas-based think tank: “We need to make our research and opinions understandable to the Waffle House crowd.”
West knows these people because he dines with them. He runs four miles a day so he can chow down on breakfast at places like Waffle House, Cracker Barrel and Denny’s.
“We could sit here and have great conversations about quantitative easing that would make everybody else’s eyes roll back in their heads,” West says in his corner office along the Dallas North Tollway. “But regular folks have to get it. They have to sift through all the political-speak to know why food commodity prices are rising and their wages are being depressed.”
West, who took over the libertarian-oriented nonprofit in January, wants to brand the NCPA as America’s think tank.
He’s trying to rebuild the NCPA after a sexual harassment scandal involving its well-known founder, John Goodman, nearly scuttled it. The donors who abandoned ship gave about $2 million per year, or 40 percent of its operating budget.
Dennis McCuistion, who had stepped in as interim CEO, and the NCPA board believe that West’s experience, particularly in national security, will broaden the center’s reputation beyond health care, which Goodman made its primary focus.
“We want the NCPA to live up to the national part of its name,” McCuistion says. “Allen’s been exactly what we expected. He’s the most incredible speaker. He is solid, and we are just delighted to have him on board.
West, 54, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and former Republican congressman from Florida, hit the ground running, says Catherine Daniell, NCPA’s senior director of communications. In
six months, he’s given more than 50 speeches, increased social media outreach, stepped up newsletter frequency and implemented a weekly video recap of the going-ons at NCPA.
“Col. West speaks eloquently, has a vast knowledge of public policy because of his legislative experience, and humbly meets and greets people from all walks of life,” says Eileen Resnik, executive vice president of development.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced plans to add 450 U.S. troops to the 3,000 in Iraq. West, who saw combat in Operations Desert Shield/Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, fired off a statement equating the decision to “putting a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound.”
West’s three-year goal is to build a donor base of $8 million, up from the current $3 million.
“That will depend on the quality of our products,” West says. “There are people saying, ‘Ah, let’s see what the new coach will do before I start being a booster again.’ I thoroughly understand that. I look forward to that challenge.”
Last week, West issued a battle cry to newsletter subscribers asking for 10,000 people to donate $25 to $50 a month and raise $1.5 million in the next year. “Join the NCPA as we stand for limited governance, fiscal responsibility, individual sovereignty, free enterprise and a strong national defense,” he extolled.
“I’m not from the Dallas area, so I had no clue about what went on previously, and I really didn’t care,” he says. “I’ve come in with fresh perspectives, ideas and a clear direction. I’m not in some typecast box where everyone says, ‘Oh, man, here it goes again. Some old thing.’”
West grew up in the same inner-city neighborhood in Atlanta where Martin Luther King Jr. lived.
His Catholic elementary school backed up to King’s home. “If you were really good at kickball back in the day, you could kick it over the wall, and it would land in his backyard,” says West, who retrieved more than a few errant balls.
West’s father, Buck, was a World War II veteran wounded in Northern Italy. “My dad went off to World War II to fight for a country that didn’t afford him all the rights and privileges that most other people got. But he never said anything harsh about this country.”
After the war, his father worked as an aide at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Atlanta. His mother, “Snooks,” was a civil servant with the Sixth Marine Corps district headquarters.
“If my folks were alive, they’d tell you I need a haircut because it’s too long on the top,” he says, patting his inch-high flat top. “I was brought up in a very disciplined household.”
West graduated from public high school as student body president and captain of the football and track teams. He would have been the high school’s ROTC cadet battalion commander, but he’d done that the year before.
West chose the University of Tennessee because that’s where Condredge Holloway Jr. had been the first black quarterback to play in the Southeastern Conference.
“The SEC is God’s gift to Southerners. So if you were black, you were just glued to the TV when Tennessee and Condredge Holloway played,” West says.
It also helped that Tennessee had one of the best ROTC programs in the country.
West became a second lieutenant in college and spent 22 years in the military. After retiring in 2004, he was a civilian military adviser training Afghan troops.
He and his wife, Angela, a Jamaican naturalized citizen with an MBA and a doctorate in adult education psychology, settled near Fort Lauderdale, where she has family.
In 2010, Allen was persuaded to run for Congress and won. “It was a call to service in a different way — not in camouflage and boots but in a suit and tie.”
His fondest times were his daily early-morning runs past the Capitol.
“You’ve given a life of service to defend all the things that that Capitol stands for. Then, in that same life, you get the opportunity to serve inside that Capitol,” he reflects. “That’s what makes this country great: A kid from that small inner-city neighborhood gets that type of experience. I used to show people my voting card that represented the voice of 750,000 individuals. That’s an impeccable honor.”
He’s been told that his frank talk upended his re-election.
So be it, he says.
“I’m much like Davy Crockett. After losing his election, he said, ‘To hell with you. I’m going to Texas.’ So here I am.”
West didn’t exactly ride into town on a horse, but he did bring along his 2005 Honda VTX-1800N motorcycle.
West’s idea of reading for fun is Southeastern Conference football reviews, leadership books and ancient military history. His favorite all-time book? Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae by Steven Pressfield.
His favorite tunes? “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd and the Scheherazade suite by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
Simeon Terry, vice president at Austin Industries in Dallas, says he and his best buddy of 27 years disagree on politics with “good, clean debate from time to time,” but never about core values.
They’ve reinstated their guy time after years of separation.
“We both say it’s a blessing from God,” Terry says. “If Allen calls me at 3 o’clock in the morning and says, ‘Hey I’m in Saudi Arabia; I need you,’ I’m on my way, no questions asked. It’s the same thing in reverse.”
Allen Bernard West
Title: President and CEO, National Center for Policy Analysis
Resides: Lake Highlands
Education: Bachelor’s of political science, University of Tennessee, 1983; master of arts in political science, Kansas State University,1996; master of military arts and science, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1997.
Military: U.S. Army for 22 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2004.
Congress: U.S. representative from Florida, 2011-13.
Author: Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin’s Journey to Faith, Family and Freedom, 2014.
Personal: Married to Angela for 25 years. They have two daughters, 22 and 18.
National Center for Policy Analysis
Headquarters: Far North Dallas
Annual budget: $3 million
Employees: 23 in Dallas; three in Washington, D.C.