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Betting on 'Closet Republicans' in San Francisco

New America Media, News Feature, Mark Schurmann Posted: Jun 02, 2008

EDITORS NOTE: The daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants, Sashi Sabaratnam McEntee presents a fresh face among GOP candidates running for state office in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her views on immigration and the economy offer what she calls an alternative option for voters in this bluest region of the state. Mark Schurmann works for New America Media.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Facing a hemorrhage of seats in both the House and the Senate, and declining approval ratings, the Republican Partys future may lie where least expected--in arguably the bluest region in the blue state of Californiathe San Francisco Bay Area.

SashiThirty-four year-old Sashi Sabaratnam McEntee, a successful business consultant, is the daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants. A California native who grew up in Los Angeles, shes been in the Bay Area for 15 years and resides in Marin County with her husband, former race-car driver David McEntee.

A committed Republican, she may represent the new face of the GOPa young, enthusiastic woman of color, a globalist who believes in fiscal responsibility and limited government.

My parents belonged to different religions and had to come [to America] in order to get married, says McEntee, whose father is Hindu and mother is Muslim. They immigrated to the United States to escape the complications of an interfaith marriage in Sri Lanka.

She says she was raised neither Muslim nor Hindu but was brought up with the Asian belief that things happen for a reason.

Inspired by her parents, both doctors, and her childhood relationship with Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, Californias first black congresswoman, she says she has been committed to public service from a young age.

I come from a household where we value the freedom to live, love and prosper under the protection of the law, says McEntee. One of the beautiful things of being first-generation is that you dont take that freedom and protection for granted. I want to jump in and keep it, make it better.

She has her chance. Last March, with the encouragement and endorsement of the Marin County Republican Party, she decided to run for the most hotly contested political race in California this year, the Senate seat for Californias 3rd District.

McEntee is the only Republican candidate in the race. Like John McCain, shes been able to watch from the sidelines while potential Democratic opponents Mark Leno, Joe Nation and Carole Migden engaged in a hotly contested, and sometimes bruising, primary.

She sees her biggest strength as the ability to access what she calls the Bay Area's closet Republicans, voters who may share at least a few Republican ideals but arent vocal about it.

Closet Republicans keep popping up whenever I raise my hand and say Im running as a Republican for the State Senate, says McEntee. Californians need to see that there are options, more possibilities and choices for who is in government. They have to know there is more than one approach to solutions.

Howard Epstein, head of the San Francisco Republican Party, is not daunted by McEntees newcomer status. Were looking for the face of the party, someone bright, who can articulate our message and who does things very well. If McEntee can get enough press coverage shell do very well, says Epstein.

Epstein points to two other Asian Republicans running for office in the Bay Area: Harmeet K. Dhillon, a South Asian-American, is running for Assemblywoman in San Franciscos 13th District (Mark Lenos vacated seat) while Concita Applegate, a Filipina, is running against incumbent Fiona Ma in the 12th.

Like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, they represent a post-Prop 187 prominence for immigrants among California Republicans.

McEntee is an outspoken critic of the current crackdown on immigrants that has been identified with the GOP. Alarmed by the recent ICE raids in the Bay Area, she stresses their impact on tearing families apart. Family unification is really important, notes McEntee. There are people here illegally who, if taxed, could be productive members of society.

Walling off the border is also not the answer, she says. We really need a sensible foreign policy with Latin America and we need parity between workers in different countries.

For McEntee, the issue hits close to home. If one of my parents had been allowed to come to the U.S. and not the other, I wouldnt be here.

As divisive as immigration reform was only a short while ago, the number one issue for voters today is the state of the economy. If elected, McEntee says shell focus on what she can get done in her first term as senator but also urges caution on being too reactive. She says, Putting a band-aid on the wounds wont help us go forward.

Shes against single payer health care, a ballot initiative that would finance a statewide health care system, believing it would cause a backlog in available health careas it does in Canada, she saysand believes state funds for education should be controlled by local school districts.

McEntee sees merit to both sides of the budget debate being waged in the Sacramento legislature. We need revenue generating as well as cost cutting ideas. That approach to solving problems marks her as a post-partisan Republican (a la Governor Schwarzenegger) and is in step with McEntee's role as a business consultant, one she describes as putting partnerships together.

Is she ready for a full-blown election campaign, and possibly, elected office? Few expected popular Republican governor Bobby Jindal, a 36-year-old son of Asian Indian immigrants, to win election in Louisiana last year.

The GOP should take note.

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