Yesterday, I taped a video blog about an intriguing political scandal taking shape in California that made its way to page A3 of the Washington Post.

For more than a year, illegal immigration has been front and center of a heated debate between Republicans and Democrats, Republicans and the Bush administration, Democrats and organized labor unions, small “c” conservatives vs. big “b” Business, and so on.

While this policy drama plays out on Capitol Hill, there’s a bizarre drama playing out west in the world’s sixth-largest economy, California — home to an estimated 2 million illegal immigrants. 

Poll after public poll in California indicates that among Republican voters, illegal immigration is a top concern. One the state’s most popular talk radio programs, "The John and Ken Show," airs on KFI-AM in Los Angeles where the problem of illegal immigration is most prevalent in hospital emergency rooms and public school classrooms. The show’s high ratings are due largely to a singular commitment by the hosts to the issue of illegal immigration. Day in and day out, illegal immigration is served to listeners who never seem to grow tired of hearing about how bad the problem is. In other words, illegal immigration matters to California Republicans. They may not all agree on matters of abortion, environmentalism or even taxes, but the one unifying theme you can count on to bring Republicans in the state together is: Put Americans first.

So it was most curious when the San Francisco Chronicle reported on June 13 that the state GOP hired two non-U.S. citizens for senior-level jobs. One, a Canadian, obtained a coveted H1-B visa to become the party’s deputy political director. The other, an Australian, was hired as chief financial officer, overseeing a multimillion-dollar budget, just one year away from what will be a historic presidential primary election on Super-Duper Tuesday 2008.

Eyebrows were raised when news broke about two foreigners with no statewide campaign experience being hired to manage the nation’s largest state Republican Party organization. So much so that CNN’s Lou Dobbs aired a segment questioning why a political operative would be granted an H1-B visa, which is typically reserved for highly skilled immigrants who are brought into the country to do technical jobs that U.S. employers can’t fill.

The hirings seemed peculiar at best, suspicious to be sure.

About a week and a half after the original story was reported, the San Francisco Chronicle broke this front-page, above-the-fold headline: “Aussie hired by state GOP embroiled in immigration lawsuit.” It turns out that the Australian COO had been ordered deported in 2001, was later jailed in the state of New York for violating his immigration status and had subsequently filed a $5 million wrongful arrest lawsuit against the U.S. government on the grounds of “severe emotional distress and embarrassment.”

Today we learn from yet another page A1 headline in the Chronicle, “Feds suggest state GOP broke law in hiring immigrant to key post.”

The state party’s transgression? It didn’t bother to follow the law by checking the immigrant’s paperwork to verify that he was, in fact, in the country legally. Last evening the state party chairman who hired the Australian explained in a mass e-mail that the oversight was due to a lack of proper procedures. Of course, that completely ignores the fact that the federal government has already put into place “procedures” for employers to verify eligibility to work in this country. Unfortunately for the California GOP, the chairman admitted to the Chronicle that neither he nor anyone employed at the state party bothered to ask for or look at the Australian’s green card.

Adding to the intrigue of this tale is the fact that the Australian once worked for the notorious Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Taxpayer Reform and alleged co-conspirator in Jack Abramoff’s little money-laundering scheme. It was Mr. Norquist, according to one Republican Party board member who was quoted in today’s Chronicle article, who flew to California all the way from Washington, D.C., to escort the Australian around the Golden State to meet with key Republicans, as he was being considered for the key job of COO.

According to details of the Australian’s resume, published by the Chronicle, he hadn’t been employed by Mr. Norquist since 2000 — a long seven-year gap between then and now, during which time the Aussie was selling real estate in Manhattan and the Caribbean. Well, sort of. His former boss at RE/MAX Island Realty in Punta Cana told the Chronicle the man from Down Under never actually sold or rented any property during his employment. Peculiar.

But there’s a lot about this story that’s peculiar.

Steve Schmidt, a well-known GOP political strategist who worked for the White House and managed California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R) reelection campaign, summed it up best when he told the Chronicle that the hiring of the nefarious Aussie was “almost a parody of incompetence and malfeasance.”

Correction: There’s no “almost” about it. This is a really bizarre story full of irony and foolish judgment. Who could have imagined that the Republican Party in a state with the nation’s largest percentage of illegal immigrants would be guilty of hiring a non-U.S. citizen that the government tried to deport? It’s staggering.

More important than the characters involved, however, is the fact that Republican leadership, in California at least, didn’t learn a thing from the devastating 2006 election. Corruption and incompetence will be the GOP’s downfall if conservatives don’t have the courage to stand up and demand change from within. They can start with the California Republican Party.