Tom Fuentes,

An open letter to the former GOP chairman, current college trustee, forever self-destroyer

Photo by Yoshitaka OkadaTío Tomás,

It's been a bit more than a year since you stepped down as chairman of Orange County's Republican Party, a position you held for 20 years. Now you sit in the Siberia of politics known as the South Orange County Community College District (SOCCCD) Board of Trustees. What happened?

I'm reminded of the story of Pyrrhus. He was a Greek general who fought the Romans in the Battle of Asculum in 279 B.C. Upon defeating the Roman hordes despite his forces suffering huge casualties, the good king is said to have proclaimed, "One more such victory, and I am lost." His insight spawned the term "Pyrrhic victory," which the literati use to describe such ruinous triumphs.

That's been your political career, Tom. As you led the Orange County Republican Party to dominate a region in a way unseen in local government since the days of Tammany Hall, you also ensured your political doom. Petty fights, bizarre grudges, besmirchments: if you had avoided all of that, you'd still be the pontificus maximus of the county GOP. Instead you'll spend the rest of your political days doodling on agendas through another stultifying SOCCCD board meeting and dreaming of the Balboa Bay Club.

Tom Fuentes, this is your Pyrrhic life:


•1988: You approved the use of poll guards to stand outside polling places in Latino neighborhoods when they cast ballots for the 72nd Assembly District race. The Republican Party candidate, Curt Pringle, won the election. But the subsequent furor led to your resignation as communications director for the Catholic Diocese of Orange, an exodus of Latino voters from the GOP (the first of many, it would turn out) and various settlements of lawsuits regarding the matter totaling more than $480,000.

•1994: You led the local GOP in successfully pushing for the homegrown Proposition 187, the most vicious legislative attack on immigrants since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1924. The measure passed overwhelmingly throughout the state—in Orange County, nearly 70 percent of voters approved it. Political scientists now consider such full-hearted support a colossal blunder, setting back GOP efforts to woo the Latino electorate by at least a decade.

•1996: After Loretta Sanchez beat Bob Dornan in the 46th Congressional District, you joined Dornan's paranoid, ill-begotten campaign the following year, alleging Latino ballot-rigging. "Every day, more and more evidence of massive voter fraud by the Democrats and the Sanchez supporters comes to light," you told a LosAngelesTimesreporter at the time. With your blessing, the House of Representatives launched an investigation but didn't find the light. Again, more Latinos shunned the Republican Party.

•1998: On the eve of another battle between Sanchez and Dornan, you urged your old boss, Orange Bishop Norman McFarland, to admonish Sanchez's Catholic faith due to her pro-abortion beliefs, hoping the public scold would attract Latino Catholic votes. Sanchez slayed Dornan again; the Republican Party alienated Latinos again.

•2000: A group of moderate Republicans calling themselves the New Majority unsuccessfully attempted a putsch against you. Instead of trying to mend bridges, you boasted to OrangeCountyRegistereditorial writer Steven Greenhut after the spring primaries, "We just cleaned their clock."

•2002: While the Bush administration backed Richard Riordan's campaign for the Republican nomination in California's governor race, you and other conservatives successfully got the nomination for Bill Simon. You told conservative columnist Bob Novak that Republicans who support moderates are "whores." The move infuriates the Bushies: from that point on, any Orange County campaigning and fund-raising happen without you.

•2003: While the rest of the state GOP rallied around replacing Governor Gray Davis with Arnold Schwarzenegger, you ordered local GOP staffers to remove 5,000 "Join Arnold" signs from county party headquarters. A week before the recall election, Schwarzenegger held a thousands-strong rally at the Orange County Fairgrounds. He did not invite you onstage.

•Feb. 28, 2005: You persuaded four colleagues on the Board of Trustees to cancel Saddleback College's summer study-abroad program to Spain because the country had pulled its troops from Iraq. The decision drew national ridicule and outraged the locals; under heavy pressure, the SOCCCD board rescinded your decision on March 22 by a 5-2 vote. And, again, Latinos laughed at the GOP.


GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM

 
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