KPFA's Republican Activist

by Daniel Borgström
May 8, 2011


KPFA appears to have a Republican activist, and a high-profile one at that. She is Harmeet K. Dhillon, chair of the GOP in San Francisco and an innovative political strategist. She also heads a law firm which has been representing a faction in the station's ongoing turf war, and her role in this seems to be something more than a client-attorney relationship.

We first heard of Harmeet Dhillon last fall when her name turned up on legal documents associated with KPFA. She was representing
Brian Edwards-Tiekert, member of the CL/SaveKPFA faction, in a legal matter against KPFA/Pacifica. We were puzzled as to why SaveKPFA chose a Republican to represent them in court. And, as Dhillon & Smith is clearly a high priced law firm, we also wondered where they got the money to pay her. As I recall, that was in the first week of December.

Then we learned that Dhillon was doing this legal work pro bono. It was her partner, Harold P. Smith, who actually appeared in court to speak for SaveKPFA. Dhillon herself sat in the audience, keeping a close eye on how this was going. Despite being a very busy person, chair of the San Francisco GOP as well as head of a law firm, she was taking time to observe the proceedings of a relatively minor case. Harmeet Dhillon seemed to be taking a lot of interest in the well-being of SaveKPFA.

For these reasons,
Dhillon became the subject of curiosity. From time to time we'd see articles and write-ups about her. "A different kind of GOP leader," the media called her. She'd been in the ACLU, acknowledged the right of gay marriage and supported a woman's right to choose. In her view the GOP shouldn't get hung up on such matters. "I think we shoot ourselves in the foot a lot," she says. She does indeed sound pretty liberal, at least on some issues.

Nevertheless, she was
co-chair of Lawyers for Bush/Cheney in 2004, and for John McCain in 2008. "I am proud that the Republican Party made the historic choice of Sarah Palin," Dhillon wrote. She advocates "free trade," outsourcing, and cutting taxes and regulations. "I am a strong proponent of market based solutions," she said, and calls for cutbacks in spending. "There is room to cut teacher's pensions." The teachers' union is "the main culprit" in her view. "If I were king for a day," she told an interviewer, "I would eliminate the teachers' union."

Why would a Republican be working pro bono for the
SaveKPFA, who in name at least are progressives? The CL faction is dominated by former Communist Party members--a crew of ex-radicals who've found a comfortable home in the Democratic Party and long ago ossified into pillars of the "left-wing" establishment. But to a Republican they must look flaming red--still too hot to touch, or so I would've thought.

Opposing the establishment faction at KPFA is our
grass roots coalition. It looks to us like SaveKPFA has been steering the entire Pacifica Radio network onto the road to bankruptcy for strategic reasons of their own. Presumably they expect to grab KPFA from the ensuing wreckage of the network.

For their part, the Republicans would probably like to see the end of the Pacifica network. Could that be why Dhillon has decided to bolster up the legal fortunes of SaveKPFA? Maybe it's one of her innovative Republican strategies--to assist SaveKPFA in taking over KPFA through a bankruptcy that at the same time
eliminates the other Pacifica stations. Let me acknowledge here that I'm only speculating. Just speculating.

A few days ago we saw the
Sunday Chronicle of April 24, and there on the front page was a lengthy write-up about Dhillon. Her life, born in India, grew up in North Carolina, her liberal views on some topics, and her campaigning for George W. Bush. Much of it was stuff we already knew. But one thing was news to us: about two months ago Dhillon married a former board member of KPFA, Sarv Randhawa.

Sarv was a board member for six years. An activist who'd known him from years back remembers that Sarv never discussed politics; he seemed to be apolitical. But if so, why was he a long term board member of this left-wing radio station, an activity that consumed much of his free time?

There was a revealing moment in 2005 & 06, when an endorsement of the Berkeley Honda workers strike was to be put on the
local station board's consent calendar, and Sarv objected to it. He needed time to read it over carefully, he said. So the matter was deferred till the next month when Sarv again objected that he hadn't had time to study the motion. The strike went on for ten months, and each month Sarv expressed the same objection. Finally, when it was clear that the Berkeley Honda workers had won, two days before the strike was settled, Sarv joined others in expressing support. Later, when he was criticized for not supporting the strike, he insisted that he had supported it. And technically, yes, he had--but only after the lengthy battle was over and support was no longer needed.

Progressive organizations and even the city council had expressed support for the
striking auto mechanics at Berkeley Honda. Sarv's foot-dragging was in effect a veto on the KPFA board's endorsement. His SaveKPFA associates seemed to have no serious problem with his stance, but the rest of us did sort of wonder who Sarv Randhawa really was. And we've been wondering ever since. After learning of his marriage to Harmeet Dhillon, we did some online research, but didn't find a whole lot. Just that he contributed $250 to the GOP last year.

Presumably Sarv's fellow SaveKPFA members had some inkling of his real political inclinations, but they accepted him as an ally, and this may go towards explaining their acceptance of the GOP chairwoman into their camp.

Nevertheless, since SaveKPFA has several attorneys in its ranks, I keep wondering why they need a Republican. There must be a reason. Let me speculate a bit further. As I've pointed out, most SaveKPFA members are Democrats, staunch unremitting opponents of the Republicans. But Democrats and Republicans do more than occasionally find common ground and common causes--and when they do, it's usually to screw us over.

SaveKPFA's apparent goal is to force the Pacifica network into
bankruptcy and take over KPFA. However, acquiring KPFA could be difficult because a bankruptcy court would most likely sell the license to pay off creditors. In such a scenario, SaveKPFA would have no control over the outcome--or would they? They are well connected and have some Democrat politicians on their side. It might also help to have an influential Republican going to bat for them. Bipartisanship could perhaps make the difference and swing the deal.

It's heartwarming to see these apparent opposites bonding so nicely and working harmoniously together--if only their purpose weren't the destruction of the Pacifica Radio network.

DANIEL BORGSTRÖM
May 8, 2011









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