Longtime former Orange County GOP Chairman Tom Fuentes will receive his second lifetime achievement honor in less than a month come Saturday, when the Western Conservative Political Action Conference convenes.Breaking with recent journalistic practice re Fuentes, Wisckol dares to mention the controversy—and self-inflicted infamy—that attended Fuentes’ lengthy chairmanship:
Following a couple afternoon panels, the Western CPAC will host a reception for Fuentes and present him with a “lifetime leadership award.” Last month, the California Republican Party honored the cancer-stricken Fuentes with a “lifetime achievement award.”
But 62-year-old Lake Forest resident, never one to pull punches, also saw his share of conflict and controversy. Among the most notable was the hiring of poll guards in the 1988 Assembly election of Republican Curt Pringle, who beat Democrat Christian “Rick” Thierbach by 843 votes. Fuentes said the security guards were to help ensure that non-citizens didn’t voting. A civil-rights suit was filed on behalf of five Latino voters alleging that the poll guards were sent to deter legitimate Latino voters. Fuentes, Pringle and fellow defendants paid $400,000 to settle the suit.
The party’s stronghold on the county began slipping in the late 1990s. By 1998, Democrats had picked up two state legislative seats and a congressional seat. In 1999, Republicans fell below 50 percent of the county’s registered voters for the first time since 1984. In 2001, the county GOP lost its spot as the California county with the highest percentage of Republican voters.
Fuentes’ loyal supporters continued to dominate the county party, but rumblings of dissatisfaction over his polarizing positions on social issues and his sometimes domineering leadership style continued growing until his resignation.