Saturday, January 16, 2010

That notorious episode: Tom's "goons"

SOCCCD Trustee Tom Fuentes may be pious as hell, but he ain't decent.

Perhaps the most notorious episode of Fuentean ungentlemanliness (aka "abject loutitude") occurred twenty-one years ago.

In an open letter to Tom, Gustavo Arellano describes the incident:
...[Y]ou 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. (See An open letter to the former GOP chairman, current college trustee, forever self-destroyer, OC Weekly.)
It happened during the election of 1988. You remember: Bush Sr. v. Dukakis, etc.

This morning, I scraped together newspapers LA Times articles that covered the "poll guard" incident at the time. They paint quite a picture. If you want to know how things went down, well, here’s your chance:

• State Assails GOP's Posting of Poll Guards, LA Times, November 9, 1988
Uniformed security guards hired by the Republican Party of OC were removed from Santa Ana polling places Tuesday morning after the chief deputy secretary of state termed their presence "unlawful intimidation of voters."

Outraged Democratic Party leaders had charged that the guards were harassing Latino voters in the bitterly contested 72nd Assembly District, writing down automobile license plate numbers and challenging voters to prove that they are U.S. citizens.

Santa Ana police were investigating charges that at least 20 security guards, clad in blue uniforms and wearing badges, had interfered with voters at Santa Ana polling places and displayed signs in English and Spanish warning against voting by non-citizens, officials said.
. . .
Republican Party Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes confirmed that the security guards "were part of our Election Day security effort" in mostly Latino neighborhoods in central and south Santa Ana. Along with the uniformed guards, signs in English and Spanish were posted outside polling places warning non-citizens that it is a felony to vote.
. . .
…[T]he Democratic candidate in the 72nd Assembly District, Christian F. (Rick) Thierbach of Anaheim, blasted the GOP's use of uniformed observers.

"It shows me the people in control of the Orange County Republican Party are desperate, ruthless individuals who would stop at nothing to get what they want," Thierbach said, referring to the all-out GOP effort on behalf of his Republican opponent, Curt Pringle.

Stunned Latino leaders from both political parties sharply condemned the GOP's ballot tactics.

[Republican] Santa Ana Councilman John Acosta predicted that [Fuentes and crew] had set back party efforts to recruit Latinos "by 20 years." Positioning uniformed guards outside polling places is "totally, totally un-American. It smacks of Nazism...."

But David Gilliard, a consultant to Pringle, said their campaign "received a tip" several weeks ago to watch for "voting irregularities" on Election Day.
Yep. Their story was that they had heard that Democrats hatched a plan to bus lots of illegals into the County to vote.

Um, that’s ridiculous. And, in fact, these busloads never materialized. Plus, isn’t the job of catching “illegal” voters something for the authorities? Why not make a phone call?

Sending these guards, as it turns out, was flatly illegal. They'd been warned about that weeks earlier. They did it anyway.

• FBI Probes GOP's Posting of Guards at Santa Ana Precincts, LA Times, November 10, 1988
The FBI is investigating allegations of voter intimidation by uniformed security guards who were hired by the Orange County Republican Party....

Republican officials said the guards were hired because of anonymous tips about a Democratic plan to bus illegal aliens to the polls to vote….

The uniformed guards were sent to the polling places with large signs in English and Spanish warning non-citizens not to vote.

The polling places were in the 72nd Assembly District, and Carlos Rodriguez, the chief consultant to the Republican candidate who apparently won there, said Wednesday that the outcome might have been different without the guards.

"I'm not at all sure we would have won," Rodriguez said.

Republican Curt Pringle was leading Democrat Christian F. (Rick) Thierbach of Anaheim by 671 votes, as the counting of absentee ballots continued Wednesday.

[Orange County Registrar of Voters Donald F.] Tanney said he visited two of the polling places Tuesday night and will report his findings to the Orange County district attorney's office for review of any election code violations, such as interference with a polling place or intimidation of voters.
. . .
Latinos and Democrats reacted strongly, likening the presence of uniformed security guards at the polls to "Gestapo" tactics.
. . .
…"We were even told that one of the guards was sitting next to a ballot box and was handling ballots as people left," Thierbach said.
. . .
Bob Hattoy, director of the Dukakis presidential campaign in Orange County, said he found four polling places where security guards were sitting at tables with volunteer poll workers….
Was Rodriguez saying that hiring the guards was justified because, without 'em, Pringle would've lost? Good grief.

• GOP Was Warned About Poll Guards, Registrar Says, LA Times, November 11, 1988
The county registrar of voters said Thursday ... that he had warned Republican officials 4 weeks before the election not to challenge voters at the polls.

Registrar Donald F. Tanney said he issued the warning at a meeting requested by two Republicans involved in the race in the 72nd Assembly District.

"They inquired about challenging voters about their eligibility to vote as they arrived to cast their ballot," Tanney said. "I strongly cautioned them about any form of interference."

GOP County Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes has taken responsibility for the decision to station guards at 20 polling places in heavily Latino areas of the 72nd District on Election Day, and pressure was building Thursday for Fuentes' ouster.
. . .
State Republican Party Chairman Bob Naylor said Thursday that the GOP has guidelines specifically precluding the use of uniformed personnel at polling places because there is a "heavy-handed look to it that could cause people not to exercise their perfectly legitimate (voting) rights."

Naylor added that he was outraged by the use of uniformed guards: "It's a terrible, terrible symbolic insult to the Hispanic community to have these put in just Hispanic precincts."….
OK, so Team Fuentes were told by the head County official that this guard thing was illegal a month before the election. Hmmm. And, besides, the GOP specifically forbids this kind of thing. What on earth was Team Fuentes thinking?

• GOP Official Says He OKd Observers at Polls, LA Times, November 12, 1988
Orange County's GOP chairman said Friday that he had agreed to use party funds to hire Election Day observers at polls in the 72nd Assembly District, but that the chief consultant to the district's Republican candidate decided that those observers should be uniformed guards.
. . .
County Registrar of Voters Donald F. Tanney ordered the guards away from the polls. Only voters and election officials are allowed within 100 feet of a polling place.

County Republican Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes, who has accepted responsibility for the incident, said Friday that the guards were requested by Carlos Rodriguez, Assembly candidate Curt Pringle's political consultant, a few weeks before the election. Fuentes said he and Rodriguez were concerned that Democrats might bring illegally registered people to the polls….
Tom takes responsibility. He evidently went along with the "guards" idea. Then he points a finger at Rodriguez, who wanted uniforms—as if uniforms were the only problem here. But what about Tanney's warning not to send people to "challenge voters" or to "interfere" in any way, which nixed chatty guards or even loitering observers, uniformed or not?

• GOP Chairman Says Poll Guard Decision Was Pringle Aide's, LA Times, November 12, 1988
…The [poll guard] incident has become an embarrassment for the Republican Party, whose leaders at the state level have joined in denouncing the plan because of its potential for intimidating prospective voters, particularly Latino voters who may be new citizens.

County GOP Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes, who has accepted responsibility for the incident, said Friday the guards were requested by Carlos Rodriguez, Assembly candidate Curt Pringle's political consultant, a few weeks before the election….

"I said we would be willing to pay for that segment of our Election Day overall voting security," Fuentes said, adding that he authorized a $4,000 expenditure. But he said the details of the security arrangement were left to Rodriguez.

GOP Assemblyman John Lewis of Orange, who assisted the Pringle campaign, said Friday that the issue of hiring uniformed personnel to monitor polls was discussed by Republican officials as early as 2 months before the election. Lewis said he recalls such a discussion at a meeting also attended by Fuentes, Pringle campaign staff members and several other GOP officials….
Oh my. "Uniformed personnel" were discussed, with Fuentes present, two months before the election? That doesn't seem to square with what Tom said earlier. "Oh, what a tangled web we weave...."

• Fuentes Should Resign, LA Times editorial, November 13, 1988
…No matter how ... investigations turn out, there is no question the county GOP organization, and its chairman, Thomas A. Fuentes, are guilty of a blatant violation of fairness, decency and basic common sense in the inexcusable and reprehensible attempt to intimidate Latino voters.

County Registrar of Voters Donald F. Tanney says he warned Republican officials 4 weeks before Election Day not to challenge voters at the polls. Still, Fuentes allowed the security guards to go to the polls, where they displayed signs in English and Spanish warning against voting by non-citizens, sat alongside election officials at some polling places and, according to witnesses, wrote down license numbers and reportedly questioned some voters about their citizenship.

By singling out Latinos, the alleged security action introduced an element of racism against an innocent group of people. Santa Ana Councilman John Acosta, a Republican, said the action set back party efforts to recruit Latinos "by 20 years."
. . .
Fuentes, in confirming that the security guards at the polls "were part of our Election Day security effort," first termed the charges of harassment and intimidation "a media event." The following day he issued a weak apology and added: "I would say in retrospect, based on the brouhaha created by the opposition in the media, I would not have" hired the uniformed guards.
. . .
County Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, probably the most prominent Republican Latino in the state, said the episode "showed a tremendous lapse in judgment."

Bruce Nestande, a highly respected county Republican leader who was co-chairman of the Bush campaign in Orange County, was shocked that Republicans took part in the security-guard fiasco, and he said "anyone who has that thought process ought not be involved in our party."

Nestande is right. And so are those clamoring for Fuentes to resign as the county's GOP chairman. … The head of the GOP should be providing leadership and sound judgment, not overseeing loathsome operations that intimidate and insult a minority community and hold the county Republican organization up to ridicule throughout the state and nation.
Loathsome, yes. What sort of person would defend this "poll guard" gambit?

• Way Out of Step in Orange County, LA Times (del Olmo commentary), November 17, 1988
What's the problem with Republicans? Whenever they seem on the verge of a breakthrough with Latino voters, they shoot themselves in the foot.

…[W]hat Latinos will remember about the election of 1988 were the insulting and heavy-handed tactics used by Republican officials in Orange County (and a few other places) to keep them from voting. …In one instance a guard handled a voter's ballot, a felony under state law.

Fuentes can apologize in any language he wants, but his explanation doesn't wash….
The "guard" gambit had become a PR nightmare. Heads would roll, right? Well, no.

• Hispanic Caucus Assails Precinct Guard Use, LA Times, November 18, 1988

• 5 File Suit Claiming Harassment at Polls by Security Guards, LA Times, November 19, 1988
A lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana on behalf of five Santa Ana Latinos, who said they were harassed and intimidated by uniformed security guards as they voted last Election Day.
. . .
Plaintiff [Rudy R.] Rios, a member of the Laborers' Union, said Friday that the security guard at his precinct was seated behind the table with voting officials.

"As I got close, he got up and crossed his arms and looked at me," Rios said. "I thought, 'Are they expecting trouble today or what's happening?' I thought, 'Wow, this is like Mexico or something.' " Rios, a second generation American, said that his wife is from Mexico and that he has heard "horrible stories of guards and stuff" at Mexican elections from her relatives….
• B'nai B'rith Criticizes GOP for Poll Guards, LA Times, November 22, 1988
...The letter to Fuentes [expressing dismay and deep concern], which was signed by Jack Adelman, chairman of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith Regional Board, and Harvey B. Schechter, the organization's Western states director, said the Jewish leaders were "writing to you as registered Republicans" in Orange and Los Angeles counties....
• GOP to Pay Legal Fees in Guards Case, LA Times, November 23, 1988
Orange County Republican officials have agreed to pay legal defense fees for party activists sued over the use of uniformed guards in Latino election precincts, Assemblyman-elect Curt Pringle said Tuesday.
. . .
…[T]here was no criticism of Fuentes at a meeting Monday night of the Orange County Republican Central Committee. In fact, "I ♥ Tom" stickers were handed to everyone entering the room and an agenda item about ballot security was passed over.

"If you ever imagined Jonestown, that's what it was like," said a veteran party member, referring to the 1970s religious cult headed by Jim Jones in Guyana. "It was clear that had there been a call for a vote of confidence, people there were prepared to give it to Fuentes because it was his crowd."
. . .
[Curt] Pringle said Tuesday that the issue of legal fees was raised at a meeting of the county GOP executive committee last week. "Legal assistance did come up as a topic of discussion, and there was a consensus that the party would pay to defend anyone named in a lawsuit," Pringle said.
. . .
Fuentes told executive committee members that Orange County businessmen Peter Muth and Johnny Crean had offered to help pay for legal assistance, according to people who attended the session….
So some Republicans seem to think that Tom's got a cult going. That would explain all these Republicans blowing off this illegal and racist "poll guard" thing.

Johnny Crean? Now where have I heard that name before? (A tiny IVC fiascoette, 21 years hence: Crean Lutheran.)

• Candidate Says Poll Guard Wanted ID, LA Times, November 24, 1988
...Orange County Registrar of Voters Donald F. Tanney said Wednesday that it is illegal for anyone except appointed precinct workers to "question any voter."
According to The Long Shadow of Jim Crow: voter intimidation and suppression in America today (2004), a publication of the “People For the American Way” Foundation,
The GOP officials involved in the [poll guards] plan … claimed they acted on rumors that there was illegal registration of voters. However, according to the Orange County Register, they admitted they had no evidence of such activity and were concerned because of a sudden surge in voter registration in some Latino neighborhoods….
Just what are they acknowledging here? Is the Reg saying that these Republicans "really" were motivated by this surge in registration and the rumor had nothing to do with it?

A year after the "poll guard" incident, lawsuit(s) were settled for about half a million bucks:

Voters to Get $400,000 in O.C. Poll-Guard Suit, LA Times, December 28, 1989

Latinos reveal documents they say prove that Republicans intended to intimidate their ethnic group. GOP says insurance concerns forced deal.

Five Latino voters announced Wednesday they have accepted $400,000 to settle their lawsuit against Republican officials who posted uniformed guards at polling places last year, and they revealed documents that they said prove that the Republicans had intended to intimidate Latino voters.

The evidence released at a morning press conference included a deposition from Assemblyman John R. Lewis (R-Orange), who told attorneys he once joked with county Republican chairman Thomas A. Fuentes and the county GOP's executive director Greg Haskin about the possibility of driving green vans around polling places to give the impression that Immigration and Naturalization Service agents were lurking in the area. That idea was not pursued.* [*In a later “correction,” the Times specified that, in deposition, Lewis had a “vague recollection” that “someone” joked about the green vans. Though Fuentes and Haskins were at the meeting, others were also there.]
. . .
Attorney Joseph Remcho, representing the plaintiffs, said Pringle and the Republican officials "may have succeeded in buying this election with security guards," but the settlement satisfies the five voters because it marks the highest sum ever paid in a voting-rights case. … "Goons in polling places will not be tolerated."
. . .
… In [a] statement [issued by GOP defense attorneys], the defendants said the five voters had "struck out" in their bids to overturn the election results and to prove any wrongdoing by Republicans.
. . .
Flanked by four of the five plaintiffs, Remcho presented documents that he said made his case a "sure-fire winner."

In addition to the Lewis deposition, the evidence included notes scribbled by political strategist Michael R. Williams after a meeting with another Pringle consultant, Carlos Rodriguez. Williams wrote in a corner of his calendar on Oct. 17, 1988, the words Carlos and goons and, in another corner, the names of security guard companies.
. . .
An Oct. 19, 1988, memo from Williams to Rodriguez outlines the security guard program, noting that the 20 guards would be in uniform and that "voters will be challenged."

[Darryl R.] Wold, the county GOP's attorney, said that the 20 guards did nothing wrong, that in final instructions the guards had been told not to challenge or stop voters and that Williams' "goons" notation referred to Democrats who were allegedly registering voters illegally.

Other evidence presented included a map of the 72nd Assembly District, on which an employee of Rodriguez indicated to a sign-making company where they should post signs for the Pringle campaign, Remcho said.

The map showed plans to put signs reading "Thank You Curt Pringle" in predominantly Caucasian areas and signs—in Spanish and English—that said "Non Citizens Can't Vote" in largely Latino areas.
. . .
Earlier settlements of $20,000 from the county registrar of voters and $60,000 from the firm that employed the security guards bring the total settlement to $480,000.
. . .
The settlement encompasses all the remaining defendants: Pringle; the county Republican Central Committee and two of its officials, executive director Haskin and chairman Fuentes; Lewis; Pringle's campaign manager, Marsha Gilchrist; political consultants Williams and Rodriguez, and attorney William P. Godfrey.
. . .
Defense attorneys said the defendants did not want to settle, but their insurance companies insisted "for purely economic reasons."

If the defendants had chosen to go to trial anyway, they would have given up their right to insurance coverage for their legal fees, the attorneys said. The insurance firms will pay the $400,000.
. . .
Thierbach, who lost the 72nd Assembly District seat to Pringle by 867 votes, said it is a shame that "the insurmountable evidence of illegal activity" by the Republicans will not be revealed in a trial. [End]

--So, that’s the story. It's pretty ugly.

It does appear that Fuentes lost his influential Diocese of Orange PR gig over this fiasco:

Fuentes Keeps His GOP Post, Quits Catholic Diocese Job, LA Times, January 10, 1989
Thomas A. Fuentes, who Monday night won his third term as Orange County Republican Party chairman, has left his influential post as director of communications for the Diocese of Orange, it was learned Monday.

…His leaving comes in the wake of concerns that his role as GOP chairman had inadvertently drawn the Catholic Church into a political controversy over the county GOP's hiring of uniformed security guards on Election Day at polling places in predominantly Latino areas of Santa Ana. Church officials said Fuentes' departure is not related to the security guard incident.

But Msgr. John Sammon said Monday that the controversy was "not well received" in the diocese because several news stories about it at the time also mentioned that Fuentes worked with the diocese.

"It made us become part of the party, which we weren't," Sammon said. He said that many church leaders also hold leadership posts in other areas, but that being the head of a political party and working with the church—"those two are not compatible."

While Sammon said he did not think that the security guard flap was the reason that Fuentes left his diocesan post, he added that concern over the incident was expressed to the head of the diocese, Bishop Norman F. McFarland….

On Monday night, Fuentes was the overwhelming choice of county Republican Party activists to lead the GOP for the coming year.

He was unopposed in his bid for a third, 2-year term and was selected county chairman by acclamation by the 66-member county central committee, which met to elect new officers at a Costa Mesa hotel.
. . .
In a partisan swipe, he labeled the county Democratic Party as "sad and ineffective." Then, in his only public reference to the controversy, he accused the Democrats, who have filed a federal lawsuit to overturn the election results in the 72nd Assembly District, of attempting to "use the courts to seek revenge."

Referring to the Republican Party's decision to post uniformed security guards at 20 Santa Ana polling places, Fuentes said, "We would not let them then, or will not let them now steal" that election….
Sammon's remark about the incompatibility of being a head of a party and working for the church sure is odd. It sounds like some important people in the church had only recently become struck by this "incompatibility." Fuentes had held both supposedly contradictory roles for years.

After the "poll guard" fiasco, Fuentes was still a hero to his pals down at the party. But Fuentes' popularity with that crowd disguised a serious rift among local Republicans—one that ultimately led to Fuentes' ouster fifteen years later. Some Big Money OC Republicans viewed Fuentes as a relic of OC's unattractive Neanderthalic past. They had desperately sought to overcome our county's Cave Man reputation, and Fuentes seemed invariably to stand in the way.

Bad for business, I guess.

And then there are those pesky political realities concerning ideological purity. Fuentes has long stood for hardball politics, which makes him a creep. But he's also long stood for fidelity to "conservative" (and libertarian) principles, which makes him a True Believer. These principles just don't seem to play well with voters, including increasingly numerous Latino voters.

Fuentes refused to compromise. He was always down at Laguna Beach, shoveling shit against the tide.

This ensured a noticeable failure of enthusiasm concerning some important Republican stars (especially Ah-nold). In the new millennium, he really pissed off some important Republicans--even ones with big hats.

He was toast.

After 1988:

In 1994, Fuentes's principles were such that he was a big supporter of California's infamous Proposition 187, which was designed to identify illegal immigrants and to prevent them from using social services, health care, and public education.

It passed. But then it was declared unconstitutional. And it pissed off Latino voters.

In 2006, Fuentes was the senior advisor to Tan D. Nguyen’s campaign to take Loretta Sanchez’ Congressional seat.

Nguyen used a Spanish-language mailer that warned illegal residents and “immigrants” not to vote. Their voting, it said, is a crime that could lead to imprisonment and deportation. (See State investigators focus on Nguyen Campaign.)

Nguyen lost. The mailer was investigated. As it turns out, it is possible that the reference to “immigrants” was caused by a poor translation.

In any case, Nguyen has always denied ordering the mailer, but the state (and local reporters) have determined otherwise.

Fuentes stepped away from this particular mess pretty quickly. Though he was the chief political advisor to Nguyen, Tom has not been implicated in any wrongdoing with regard to the mailer episode.

Still…


5 comments:

  1. Wonderful research, PRB, and the zebra hasn't much changed his stripes. Tossed out by a more progressive, less authoritarian set of OC Republicans, Tom's consolation "prize" was SOCCCD. He can be pleasant but he is very thin in substance, except the alcoholic type.

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  2. And don't forget Tommy's ties to pedo-priests!

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  3. Gustavo:

    Yes, I suppose that those ties deserves to be viewed as constituting a darker episode of "ungentlemanliness" or abject loutitude. It will be necessary, however, to read all of your coverage about that matter and to find its essence. The story, presented in pieces over time, always struck me as a bit hard to grab onto. But yes.

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