California State GOP Goes Outside The U.S. To Hire Top Aide
For the San Francisco Chronicle, Carla Marinucci reports:
The California Republican Party has decided no American is qualified to take one of its most crucial positions -- state deputy political director -- and has hired a Canadian for the job through a coveted H-1B visa, a program favored by Silicon Valley tech firms that is under fire for displacing skilled American workers.
Christopher Matthews, 35, a Canadian citizen, has worked for the state GOP as a campaign consultant since 2004. But he recently was hired as full-time deputy political director, with responsibility for handling campaign operations and information technology for the country's largest state Republican Party operation, California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring confirmed in a telephone interview this week.
In the nation's most populous state -- which has produced a roster of nationally known veteran political consultants -- "it's insulting but also embarrassing ... to bring people from the outside who don't know the difference between Lodi and Lancaster ... and who can't even vote," said Karen Hanretty, a political commentator and former state GOP party spokeswoman.
U.S. Department of Labor records show the state Republican Party applied for an H-1B visa to fill the job of "political consultant" and was granted a visa labor certification in March 2007. The three-year H-1B visa does not become valid until Oct. 1, 2007, government records show.
Party officials said Matthews has been working in the interim under a "TN" visa -- a renewable one-year special visa for Canadian and Mexican professional workers created under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Matthews was hired by Michael Kamburowski, an Australian citizen who was hired this year as the state GOP's chief operations officer. But neither new official has experience in managing a political campaign in the nation's most populous state -- and as foreign citizens, neither is eligible to vote.
Kamburowski, a former real estate agent who sold property in the Dominican Republic, is a permanent U.S. resident in the process of obtaining American citizenship and does not require a specialized work visa, state GOP officials said.
With just months until the state's Feb. 5 primary and Republicans facing a roster of formidable challenges in California -- a key political fundraising state -- some party insiders are shaking their heads at the hirings.
"There are talented Republicans in California, and the message that (party chair) Ron Nehring is sending is that there's no talent pool here," Hanretty said.
The state party and its 58 county operations face several challenges, Hanretty said, including "redistricting on the ballot, uncertain legislative races ahead of us ... and a number of Republican congressmen who are under federal investigation and are going to be challenged by Democrats."
"Who will help these candidates?" she asked. "A couple of foreign transplants who don't know the political landscape and don't know the history of the complicated politics in California?"
Nehring defended his choices by saying Matthews and Kamburowski are highly qualified political professionals who will be an asset to the party -- and dramatize the GOP ideal of welcoming immigrants.
"Chris (Matthews) was inspired by the recall and by the governor to come to California in 2003 and volunteer for the Republican Party of San Diego," said Nehring, who chaired the San Diego party's organization from 2001 to 2007.
Nehring, a conservative Republican, became state chairman earlier this year, replacing Palo Alto attorney Duf Sundheim.
Nehring said he met Matthews while overseeing a campaign school in Calgary, Alberta, "and when the recall started, Chris said he wanted to come down and be part of it."
Matthews spent a month as a volunteer and in 2004 began work as a paid consultant to the San Diego County Republican Central Committee, party officials said.
As deputy political director, Matthews will be responsible for political campaigning and technology issues because "he has a successful track record of working with the party for the last three years," Nehring said. "He's developed an incredible body of knowledge in those areas. ... He's one of the strongest campaigners I've ever met."
Nehring said he has been inspired that Matthews "has wanted to move to America and become an American citizen ... and we embrace that."
"Our job at the California GOP is to build the most effective campaign organization. ... And the fact that we have two people on staff who want to become Americans ... is a great story that is at the heart of what the Republican Party is all about."
But the party nationally has fought efforts to increase immigration, calling during the recent debate in Congress for much tighter border security and resisting efforts to providing a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the country.
The hiring of two immigrants at top Republican Party posts has handed ammunition to critics who note that many Republicans have spoken critically about the impacts of waves of Mexican immigrants.
"The hypocrisy is disgusting," said longtime Democratic Party activist Gloria Nieto, policy director at San Jose-based Services Immigration Rights and Education Network, or SIREN, an immigrant advocacy nonprofit organization.
Nieto argued that the party has painted Latinos "as the brown menace. ... But it's perfectly OK to hire people from outside the country? What does it say about the Republican Party that they import their hired guns?"
State campaign finance records show that Matthews earned almost $19,000 for work as a campaign consultant in 2005 with the San Diego GOP but has earned little in other years.
While the hiring of Matthews under the H-1B visa for "specialized workers" is legal, it appears to skirt the intention of the program -- which calls for most employers to make a good-faith effort to hire Americans first, according to U.S. Department of Labor regulations.
The H-1B program -- currently limited to 65,000 workers -- is aimed at providing workers for jobs that presumably cannot be filled by American workers, and prospective employers must publicly advertise or post notice of their intentions to hire under such visas, labor guidelines state.
A bill proposed by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., would require that all employers seeking such visas be required to pledge they have made such an effort and that the visa holder does not displace an American worker.
The H-1B program's greatest advocates are Silicon Valley technology firms, which have pushed for more visas so they can hire computer specialists from overseas.
Jon Fleischman, Southern California GOP vice chair, said he was not aware of the hiring of Matthews -- but added that hirings are routinely made without consulting party officers. He said he doesn't consider it a problem to hire foreigners if they are the most qualified job applicants.
Nehring and one of his new hires also are connected to one of the nation's most conservative activist groups, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform.
Kamburowski was chair of the group's Reagan Legacy project, an effort to name landmarks in all 50 states after the deceased president.
Nehring was a senior consultant to Americans for Tax Reform and has listed Norquist as a client of his own consulting group. State GOP officials insist Matthews has never had any connection -- professional or volunteer -- with Norquist or his organization.