When the California Republican Party sought an H1-B visa for their new political director, Canadian Christopher Matthews, they all but acknowledged that among 300 million Americans, no one was qualified to steer the state party towards a more positive path. But as the California GOP struggles with its demons – xenophobia and homophobia – it is becoming obvious that perhaps no one can save the GOP but itself.
Two weeks ago, the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that the California arm of the Republican Party had sought an elusive H1-B visa -reserved for technical, skilled workers and much prized in the neighborhood just south of San Francisco, Silicon Valley – for Matthews, its newly hired deputy political director. The move sent Republican activists and consultants, like Karen Hanretty, into a tizzy: “There are talented Republicans in California, and the message that (party chair) Ron Nehring is sending is that there’s no talent pool here.”
The story then focused attention on Matthews’ immediate boss the party’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Kamburowski – an Australian citizen. Like so many who cannot stand the glare of a spotlight shown near them, Kamburowski could not stand the scrutiny when his own immigration records were researched. It turns out that the top official for California’s GOP was jailed for three visa violations by the Department of Homeland Security. Party conservatives have also pointed to “marriages” – scare quotes included – as apparent attempts to legalize his status in the United States.
If the story were all about legal or illegal immigration, it would interesting cocktail party chatter, a kerfluffle among Republican insiders. But the “scare quotes” surrounding Kamburowski’s “marriages” reappeared this week on the editorial pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, hinting at a hidden agenda – long whispered, not openly discussed – among some party activists who are eyeing the unmarried status of their newly-elected bachelor Chairman.
In the Chronicle piece, California’s Republican National Committee member Tim Morgan discusses how Kamburowski got brought into the California party: Though their mutual connection with Republican activist Grover Norquist, head of the Washington, D.C. organization, Americans for Tax Reform. “When Nehring learned that he and I would both be in Washington for the Conservative Political Action Conference, he arranged for Kamburowski to meet with me,” Morgan wrote. “Later, I learned that Norquist accompanied Kamburowski on his visit to California to meet fellow board members, providing Nehring’s “friend” an unexpected element of “gravitas” upon his introductions. Few questions were asked about the circumstances of their association.”
Anyone familiar with the patois of a gossip column – from Washington’s Wonkette to Perez Hilton here in L.A. – won’t wonder why there are “quotes” around the word “friend” in Morgan’s telling of this story. But as a West Hollywood resident like Perez, I clearly understand the code here. The suggestion that Norquist and anyone were something other than “friends” appears to be a wink and a nod to extremists within the party who are unsettled by what they’ve heard that Nehring may be doing in his personal life. And it’s not fair. If Morgan is suggesting that there’s more than an amiable relationship between Norquist and Kamburowski, then the Chronicle‘s editors should have made him be less coy about it; if all he suggests is that they are actual, you know, friends, then why put that word in quotes? Friends are, after all, friendly.
This whisper campaign is nothing new. Even before Nehring was elected chairman of the California Republican Party, I heard a steady but quiet discussion over whether Nehring’s bachelorhood was a choice or whether he was born that way. Now that there’s an a full on assault against Nehring – including a brief but moribund website “RecallRon” website – a less pleasant question stirs in the background:
Is the California Republican Party’s circular firing squad motivated by xenophobia or homophobia? Is one being used as an excuse to hide the real intentions behind the latest imbroglio? Sadly, we may never know. But Republicans ever hope to win in California and elsewhere we need to follow the example of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and purge ourselves of both xenophobia and homophobia.
Editor’s Note: Scott Olin Schmidt is an elected member of the 42nd District Republican Party Central Committee and serves on the Executive Committee of the Los Angeles County Republican Party.