Kamburowski quits before he can be fired - now what?
6-25-2007 7:46 am
I admit it. I was and am embarrassed about revelations yesterday that Michael Kamburowksi, the now-former Chief Operating Officer of the California Republican Party, apparently failed to disclose some rather significant items about his past when applying for the State GOP's top staff job. Especially since I learned of these items on a visit to the San Francisco Chronicle early yesterday morning, while preparing yesterday's FR main page. It led to me immediately asking, "Is our COO suing America?"
A few months ago, I had a chance, along with CRP Treasurer Keith Carlson, to meet this potential new COO before he was hired, and I think it would be fair to say that we both found him to be a smart, engaged and savvy person. He was brought to us by CRP Chairman Ron Nehring as the person that he would like to have as his right hand, handling day-to-day operations. Having served as Executive Director of the Party from 1999-2001 (by the way, I was the last to hold that post before an ill-advised revamp of the bylaws changed the title of the post), I understand all too well the importance of making sure that the top staffer of the party is one that is in tune with the Chairman.
To be honest, most of the discussion that took place relative to Kamburowski's background was focused on the fact that he had been out of politics for a few years, and perhaps more significantly, that he did not have California-specific campaign experience. But this latter issue isn't a first -- my successor at the CRP back in 2001, Ryan Erwin, who was the first COO for the CRP also came from out-of-state. Some had brought up the fact that Kamburowski was an Australian citizen. When I brought that up just to inquire, it was made clear that he had been in the United States for many years, was here legally, and that he intended when eligible later this year to apply for U.S. Citizenship.
While I had a chance to ask Kamburowski a number of questions -- I must admit that there were a few questions that I had not bothered to ask. "Have you ever been in jail?" and "Are you suing the United States?" would be two of them. But, I guess there is 'safety' in numbers as I am quite certain that in addition to myself, a number of others had a chance to meet briefly with Kamburowski before the hire, including our legislative leaders. The reality of the situation is that no one asked him these questions, and, perhaps most significantly, he did not disclose this information during the hiring process. Equally as bad would be the fact that when the hiring of the CRP's new tech-guy, Chris Matthews, attracted attention due to Matthews' Canadian citizenship and hurdles that had to be overcome to bring him here, still Kamburowski was silent. As near as I can tell, he didn't see fit to inform anyone of this part of his background until Saturday, when the printing of the Chronicle story was imminent.
The decision making process for hiring a Chief Operating Officer is a bit intricate. The CRP has what is called an Operating Committee. It is made up of six members -- the Chairman (Ron Nehring), the Vice Chairman (Tom Del Becarro), the top state GOP officeholder (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and two CRP Board Members (chosen by the Board -- in this case Assembly GOP Leader Mike Villines and CRP Budget Chief Tony Krvaric). These folks as a group make the decision on the hiring of a COO. A final vote comes to the full 20+ member Board of Directors after the Operating Committee has finalized their decision. That is what happened here.
As I mentioned above, when revelations of Kamburowksi's failure to disclose his past immigration status questions and associated issues (such as his lawsuit against the United States government), he offered his resignation from his post. Chairman Nehring accepted it immediately. Kamburowski's decision to resign was a good thing for him, and for the CRP, because otherwise my column this morning would have been a call for him to be fired. There is simply no excuse for what he did.
I know that this situation has to be particularly embarrassing and frustrating for Ron Nehring. He and I spoke a couple of times yesterday about this matter. For those of you who know Ron, his personality is such that he tries to maintain a calm, objective demeanor -- especially during times that are stressful. Despite this, I could hear the disappointment and frustration in his voice. There is simply no getting around the fact that he was "had" by Kamburowksi (as were we all). The two had worked together previously, and Ron told me that he had no idea about any of this stuff in Kamburowski's background.
That said, it is expected that later this morning, the CRP Operations Committee will meet to nominate a new 'acting' COO for the Party, with a Board of Directors conference call to follow to confirm this appointment. After that, we can expect a full-scale executive search for a permanent COO for the Party.
As was pointed out by our own Barry Jantz last night, clearly the background investigation of future applicants will have to be tightened up. Especially since you can bet that the Chron's ace investigative reporter Lance Williams will be performing a "backround-ectomy" on whomever next occupies my old office.
I would like to close this column with an invitation, and with a final observation...
Aside from Kamburowski's specific case, there has been much general discussion centered around the question, "Should political parties in America hire staff who are not American citizens, and themselves eligible to vote?"
I have my own opinion on this (probably easily discernable given that I knew Michael was an Australian citizen, yet I cast a vote to confirm him as our COO). I would like to invite any readers of this column who may be interested in giving their opinion (up to 400 words) to e-mail it to me, and I will pull them together and post them, as a group, on the site.
The final note that I would make is that while there are significant challenges ahead for the GOP here in California, it would be wrong to get so focused on this issue surrounding Kamburowski that we forget that already a lot of progress has taken place since last February's reorganizational convention. You can read about some of the CRP's accomplishments here, and in Chairman Ron Nehring's latest report linked below.
Vice Chairman, South
California Republican Party
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