Norberto Santana, Jr.
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A brewing, bitter rivalry among Vietnamese American Republican elected officials in Orange County could threaten GOP prospects for the 34th State Senate District election next week.
And with a Democratic supermajority in play this year, top state Republican leaders and major OC GOP donors are concerned.
That was the message sent a few weeks ago by OC GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker in a terse email aimed at Republican County Supervisor Andrew Do, who also is an OC GOP Central Committee member, for his public attacks against incumbent Republican Senator Janet Nguyen this election season.
“This has to stop and stop now,” Whitaker wrote to Do on Oct. 26. “I am now getting the CRP and Senate Caucus coming unglued on me. You as an elected member of the Central Committee have an obligation under the bylaws and the Election Code to support the Republican nominee in partisan races. If you can’t do that, you need to be silent, if you can’t be silent, you are going to force the Executive Committee to take action.”
Nguyen is up for reelection against Democrat Tom Umberg on Nov. 6 to represent voters in Central Orange County’s 34th State Senate District.
Democrats have a voter registration advantage in the district and this year the rate of vote by mail ballots being returned early from voters to the OC Registrar of Voters is neck and neck. Republicans usually are out in front in early ballots returned. In comparison, as of the most recent counts, Republicans hold a solid advantage in ballots returned in all four of the top congressional races in Orange County.
Nguyen is accusing Do – her former mentor and now rival – of publicly supporting Umberg, her opponent. Do hasn’t necessarily hidden his attacks on Nguyen or motivations, recently including a host of Vietnamese media and GOP donors on his email exchange with Whitaker.
While Voice of OC independently verified the email chain, neither Whitaker nor Nguyen nor Do would comment.
Yet according to the email traffic, Nguyen started ringing alarm bells to Whitaker late last month.
On Oct. 23, Nguyen wrote to Whitaker advising him that Do was on the attack, using Facebook and Youtube video interviews along with appearances on Vietnamese radio to attack her. Three days later, she wrote back again.
“He is asking all Vietnamese Republicans to vote against Janet Nguyen and make sure we remove her from office,” Nguyen wrote to Whitaker on Oct. 26.
“We are now having to spend tens of thousands of dollars to buy radio airtime and tv ads to fight back against his attacks,” Nguyen wrote.
Nguyen implored Whitaker to take action against Do.
“This is all from your elected Republican Central Committee member who is violating your bylaw, which allows for the committee to expel him for advocating and defending a Democrat against a Republican in a partisan race.
How much proof do you need? The message you are sending is that it is ok to attack another Republican who is running in a partisan race against a Democrat in a different language other than English.
Two days later, on Oct. 25, Whitaker reached out to Do, saying “I have been trying to let Janet’s complaints go past because prior reviews of Viet language issues. But I am now starting to get a lot of pressure from the state party, the Senate caucus and major donors.”
By the next day, with no word back from Do, Whitaker again emailed Do in the morning, calling on him to stop, warning there could be consequences.
A few hours later, Do emailed back, looping Vietnamese media alongside GOP donors into the email chain.
Do took issue with what he called “a threatening and patronizing email” from Whitaker.
He also called Nguyen an “out of control sociopath.”
“When Janet Nguyen messed around with other Vietnamese Republicans’ campaigns, including my own, I got lip service from you and others as to how disappointed you were, but I noticed the party stayed away. The convenient excuse then was you had no way of knowing who did what and who said what. Little Saigon politics was maybe a bit too backwater for your understanding,” Do wrote Whitaker.
“There was no outrage at Janet sending out a robo-call just to say she was not supporting me. There was no objection to her appearing regularly side by side in the Vietnamese community with my Democratic opponent in the weeks leading to my general election. There was no acknowledgement at all as to my complaints regarding attacks against me coming from Janet and her cronies for months on air. The party also shrugged off months and months of Michelle Steel and I being accused by Janet’s thugs of being pro-Communist. Throughout all of these antics by Janet, I was the party-endorsed candidate for supervisor.”
Do also told Whitaker he doesn’t care what Tom Umberg does.
“I couldn’t care less what Tom Umberg, or anyone else, do. I have no control over their action. All I said to my community is fact as to what Janet does and has done. Unless I ask voters to vote for a Democrat, you have no standing to deprive me of the right to defend myself and others in the Vietnamese community.”
Whitaker hasn’t answered back, as near as I can tell.
Meanwhile, Umberg has a truckload of top state Democrats, including State Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, headed for Santa Ana on Sunday at noon at the laborers local 652 for a rally and get out the vote effort.
Yet it seems to me like we are also witnessing the beginnings of a future election… between Do and Nguyen.
With this much bad blood, these two are likely to match up in coming years for either Nguyen’s State Senate seat or Do’s supervisors seat.