RIP Thomas Fuentes, 1948-2012 May 29, 2012

Thomas Alexander Fuentes, long time Director of Communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, and also Chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County, died in May 2012.  People had actually expected him to die the previous fall, but he hung on, held court from his bed, helped and advised people, and occasionally actually showed up, as when Rick Perry came to town.

Tom’s ancestors in the male line did not come to America; he was among the rare Hispanic surnamed people in California whose ancestors were here when American troops arrived in 1847.  Not that he minded; he loved the country that had come to his ancestors, and made sure that the Pledge of Allegiance to it was said at any event he chaired.  It must be said that he was definitely a criollo, as white Mexicans are called, which meant he was not always regarded as the most authentic example of Latino aspirations by many Latinos. However, he did not alienate himself completely, by any means, from the language and culture of his ancestors; he would organize regular trips to Baja California for charitable purposes.  And he had a lot of charitable purposes for the OC as well; among other things, he helped get the Orange County Food Bank off the ground, and it is one of the few functioning entities actually to be found in the Great Park.

If Tom and his Republican cohorts did not like government welfare, they believed just as strongly that people, as people, should care about the poor, and help organizations that dealt with them effectively.  And government should not interfere with groups of this sort.  [To make it clear:  I do not wish to abolish all government welfare, but government welfare reflects not the compassion of a society, but rather is a provision for the lack of compassion of a society.]

The Republican Party of Tom Fuentes was not a party for Social Darwinists who thought the rich were ‘deserving’ and that the non-rich were ‘losers’ who were trashy people and, most especially, undesirable neighbors that should be zoned out or redeveloped out by government.  It was not a party for those suburbanites who were motivated by what famous evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer called “the two horrible values of personal peace and affluence.”  It was not a party for crony capitalists who depended on governments, centralized or local, issuing them favors.  It was a party that a Christian could belong to. [There were ways in which he was a bit of a snob, however; he claimed he could tell people’s political party by the shape of their yard.]

After he stepped down from the chairmanship in 2005, the Republican Party was taken over by disciples of Grover Norquist and the talk-show hosts John and Ken.  Their shibboleth became “No Tax Shall Ever Be Raised Ever Ever.”  This is the ‘starve the beast’ strategy, which doesn’t work.  The public employee unions and the elderly middle class will continue to have their huge pensions and entitlements, while programs that actually help the poor, and spending on infrastructure, will be decimated.  And so will state parks.

I will concede two things, however:

1. The ‘starve the beasters’ may have induced Jerry Brown and the Democrats to act contrary to their big-government nature and abolish redevelopment.  It might not have happened without the Norquistoids.  The abolition of redevelopment was a major step forward in social justice for California.

2. The state income tax is too ‘progressive’ and top-heavy on the rich, whose fortunes – and therefore the state’s fortunes – fluctuate radically with the economy.  The solution to this, however, will at least partially involve a tax raise on the non-rich.

Anyhow, in the day of Tom Fuentes I could be a Republican; I can’t now.

kmasugi 05/29/2012

Did Tom try to bring you back from your apostasy?

BTW, have you actually met with Fukuyama yet? Did he show you his drones?

Goog 06/05/2012

Two points.
You say that Tom Fuentes’ Republican Party “was not a party for crony capitalists who depended on governments, centralized or local, issuing them favors.” And yet, near as I can tell, Tom spent much of his private career, starting in 1975, as a lobbyist for private companies that sought government contracts. Indeed, when he was a “consultant” with Bein Frost, his “lobbying” efforts—heavily and persistently wining and dining officials of the Santa Margarita Water District—caused considerable embarrassment for that agency (and, presumably, Bein Frost), when it came to light. Later, Fuentes lobbied to have his pal Tom Tait appointed to the Anaheim City Council, which they did; a month or so after that, he was made VP at Tait and Associates, where he continued to lobby for government contracts—and to send roses and whatnot to those who might be influenced to hire his company. In more recent years, he lobbied on behalf of Lange Financial, which received lucrative sole source County contracts—despite (at least in some cases) those contacts’ never having gaining the approval of County Supervisors.
I’m not sure how much emphasis you are placing on the word “capitalists” here. Certainly, Fuentes was a great conductor of a vast orchestra of cronyism in Orange County. Often, these manipulations yielded disasters of incompetence and corruption, such as the recent crashing and burning of John Williams’ County regime as Public Administrator/Guardian—or the fall of OC Treasurer Chriss Street, or County Sheriff Michael Carona, et al.
You seem to write equivocally about Tom and the extent to which he was an elitist Republican, though you acknowledge that “There were ways in which he was a bit of a snob…; he claimed he could tell people’s political party by the shape of their yard.”
I have always been struck by Tom’s tolerance for attacks on the people of his own ancestry. Perhaps you’ll recall the time that his mentor, Supervisor Ronald Caspers, called a group of disgruntled County workers “banditos.” (Tom was Caspers’ chief aid at the time.)
But he did not merely tolerate hostility to Mexicans; he actively engaged in it: consider Tom’s notorious “poll guard” action of 1988, which evidently led to an expensive civil suit and his ouster as head PR guy at the Orange Diocese.
Yes, he appears to have been a man who was committed to feeding the poor. But it seems clear that, nevertheless, he had a very low regard of them, especially if they hailed from Mexico.

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