Dear Mr. Fuentes

Letters to the most powerful Republican in Orange County

What an inspiration he was for you. When you listen to Tom Fuentes, the Los Angeles Times once said, "close your eyes and you will hear precisely the enunciated cadences of R.N."


I found a quote for the photo from Nixon’s second term. It’s something I imagine Tom Fuentes would say, too:

To Nathan: Nixon said, "The tougher it gets, the cooler I get." Stay cool. Your friend, Tom Fuentes.

What do you think? Go ahead. Pick up that pen. Be cool. Sign the photo.

Oh, by the way, thanks for the lunch offer. I must apologize. Right now, I’m booked.


Nathan Callahan


July 27, 1999

Dear Mr. Fuentes,

I looked at my calendar today and realized that it has been almost two months since I mailed you the photo to autograph.

What’s up with the U.S. mail!? Man, is this another example of the government incompetence you rail against or what!?

I bet they lost the package. You’d think the post office would be more careful, especially after they raised the rates.

I found your photo again at the OC Weekly. This time, though, I Photoshopped the pope in next to you and enclosed two copies—one for me and one for you.

My friend Tim gave me the idea. Tim (he’s Catholic, too) told me that in 1977, you began a 12-year stint as spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Orange (kind of like the pope’s PR guy for Orange County). You had already been the president of the Young Republicans at Chapman and Santa Ana Colleges and an assistant to an Orange County supervisor. By 1981, you were serving as the local Republican Party’s vice chairman. Then, in 1985, you ran for the chairmanship.

As always, you were a campaign monkey. Everyone on the Republican Party Central Committee list got a phone call from you. You must have really worked the Reagan angle to persuade party members that their presiding chairwoman, Lois Lunberg (a moderate!), should be replaced with Tom Fuentes (a superconservative!).

Just weeks away from Election Day, you received an invitation from the archbishop of Panama for an all-expenses-paid trip to the Vatican to meet the pope. Jesus, Mary and Joseph (can I say that?), I’m not Catholic, but I bet the chance to hobnob with God’s messenger on Earth must be a real honor.

Your head must have been buzzing. You were ready to bag the party leadership AND go mano a mano with the pope—all in the same week.

Then came the disappointing news. It turned out that the flight from Rome wouldn’t arrive in Orange County until two days after the election. You were so primed to lead the Republican Party that you couldn’t take a chance on leaving town and coming back a loser.

So you blew off the pope!

As it turned out, your wife went to Rome, and you kicked Lunberg’s whoopee cushion. Way to go!

I think you made the right decision. After all, what could the pope do for your political career in Orange County?

Which brings me to this photograph. I don’t know if you’ve met the pope since, but I thought you’d appreciate a photo with the two of you together—even if it is make-believe. (I scanned the pope off a holy card.) As for my copy of the photo, Tim suggested you sign it:

To Nathan: Who’s that guy standing next to me? Your friend, Tom Fuentes.

Ha. Ha. Tim has a serious case of corn. Truthfully, whatever you write will be great as long as you autograph it.

There’s one more thing I’ve got to ask: you were a spokesman for the diocese and the chairman of the Republican Party at the same time for four years. Did you ever get confused?

I think you did. Do you remember the time you sent uniformed security guards to Santa Ana polling places on election day in 1988? What was THAT about? You said you wanted to protect the "sanctity of the ballot" by making sure there was no illegal voting, but all you did was piss off a whole demographic of Latinos and give Curt "Poll Guard" Pringle (your candidate and the eventual winner) a nickname. The only place you stationed the guards was in the barrios.

You’re a sixth-generation son of Mexican immigrants. What were you thinking? Could it be that you were still distracted by your aborted meeting with the pope?

Don’t worry. We all get distracted. And even though the guard incident was one of the lowest points in Orange County Republican Party public-relations history, you handled it like a pro. A few months later, you resigned as director of communications at the diocese in Orange and won your re-election bid to chair the Republican Party. Great recovery. But don’t ever let your mind wander like that again. Just remember: NO MORE POLL GUARDS. They tend to emit the vibe of a dictatorship.

Thanks in advance for your autograph. I hope you enjoy your copy of the photo.

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