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In 1976, Tom Fuentes sat at his corner table in the Garden room of the famous Chanteclair Restaurant and had a quiet lunch with his Cardinal from the Catholic Church of Orange County. These were the Jimmy Carter years. Tom Fuentes had a quiet powerful humble presence, that belied an even deeper competitive spirit and desire for ambitious projects for the future. The power brokers of the Republican Party in Orange County were a bunch of leftovers from the reign of Richard Nixon. The short lived Jerry Ford Presidency had yielded few of the big business donors to the local OCGOP. The Republicans of Orange County were looking for a savior. They needed a volunteer that was willing to fight an uphill battle and try to bring in more folks under the Republican banner. That job seemed impossible at the time. Tom knew he needed help and found many willing; including Jo Ellen Allen and other great OC Republicans to get on board the new ”Reagan Revolution” with pitchforks in hand!
Tom Fuentes was not a “Hair on Fire Conservative” like that of John Schmitz or Bob Dornan. Tom wanted a much bigger tent for the Republican Party in Orange County and with a Hispanic surname he was the perfect local key foil to make it all happen. It did not hurt that the disenfranchised Republicans that had moved into the American Independent Party no longer had a charismatic leader, after George Wallace was shot, and many were open to move back to the Elephant Party if a true Conservative Candidate could be found. The word on the street was that the actor/moderator from ”Death Valley Days”, a spokesman for General Electric Company and former Governor of Californa Ronald Reagan was thinking of putting his hat into the ring again in 1980. Reagan had done so in 1976, but lost to Ford at the Republican Convention. The Reagan stirring speech however resonated deeply in the Conservative Republican Spirt and Tom Fuentes was right there to soak it all in for Orange County. The major power brokers liked how Tom Fuentes carried himself and the Conservative message.
As the wave began many years of successes for the Republican Party. Orange County California soon became “Reagan Country”, and that great wave of Conservatism even parsed into a rebuilt Orange County Airport and the naming it after so-called Conservative John Wayne! This after all was the home of the Balboa Bay Club, Senators George Murphy, S.I. Hayakawa and of course the great Conservative icon Barry Goldwater that made Orange County their virtual “home away from home!” Tom helped all of them along the way, as they made public appearances, ran powerful campaigns for State Initiatives and brought National concerns to the National Press. Orange County California was becoming a major national force and voice for Conservative thinking and action.
Tom Fuentes had his feet to the fire from the beginning. He had to deal with huge fund raising responsibilities, a rising tide of new Republicans that wanted to touch the hemn of the skirt of this powerful movement. Fuentes brought in Conservative leaders from around the country, got their support, raised more money than you could shake a stick at and made the Republican Railroad Run on Time. Tom passed away Friday from a long fight with liver cancer. Tom had earned his stripes through the years. He had his ups and he had his set backs…in fact several, but he kept rebounding with energy and direction. He kept the OC Republican ship upright. He never deserted or left that Republican ship…even though he was forced to the sidelines.
Tom Fuentes was remarkable, in that he sustained the status of the party through movements of takeover by the so-called moderate majority, by other interlopers that wanted to avail themselves of the power and status of the Orange County Republican cache. Fuentes held the reigns of power from 1976 through 2007, when he became the consulting mentor that was always part of his normal character. Ronald Reagan said: “It is amazing how much you can get done or accomplish, if you don’t care who gets the credit!” Tom Fuentes was that guy. He had a pretty strong ego that he displayed on occasion, but through most of it – he was giving the kudos to others, showing his appreciation verbally and telling others how grateful the party was “for their participation”. Tom’s One Clap introduction of local dignitaries for all meetings and gatherings was legion and legend!
It was a tough gig for Tom Fuentes. He had to walk through a wall of fire at times, he had to fight and convince others of the right position for the party to take, he had to compromise at the right times and he had stand his ground exactly at the right times – to keep the leadership intact and to make sure that the programs ahead were successful. Through all his years of service, we can justly say: Great Job Tom Fuentes! Through good times and bad…you stood tall.
Ground Control to Major Tom…….we will miss you sir!
*In one of the last actions by Tom Fuentes….he encouraged his son T.J. to run for the Republican Central Committee in the coming June 5th, 2012 Election:
Thomas A. Fuentes “T.J.” Jr. Republican Central Committee
**Good Luck Junior – your Dad would be proud and you have our vote!