The Fuentes "Poll Guards" Incident (1988)
Fuentes’ “poll guard” episode
[Naturally, this was not a matter of SOCCCD history at the time. Fuentes would not become a trustee until 2000. But much is revealed about the future trustee's character in this episode.]]
• State Assails GOP's Posting of Poll Guards, LA Times, November 9, 1988
Uniformed security guards hired by the Republican Party of Orange County 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.
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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.
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…[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.
• 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 and posted at polling places in heavily Latino precincts in Santa Ana.
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.
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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.
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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….
• GOP Was Warned About Poll Guards, Registrar Says, LA Times, November 11, 1988
The county registrar of voters said Thursday, as the controversy continued to grow over a GOP decision to station uniformed guards at polling places, 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.
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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."….
• 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.
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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….
• 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….
• Fuentes Should Resign, LA Times editorial, November 13, 1988
…No matter how [government] 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."
But equally detestable to the authorization of such a despicable operation was the reaction by Fuentes….
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.
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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.
• 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.
…Republican officials explained [the guards’] use, saying they had heard rumors that the Democrats might bus large numbers of illegal aliens to the polls to vote. That explanation is so ludicrous that even Latino Republicans were not convinced….
The resulting outcry was so unanimous that Orange County Republican chairman Tom Fuentes publicly apologized, saying, "If there was an offense taken by anyone . . . we need to say lo siento , which is 'we are sorry'."….
Fuentes can apologize in any language he wants, but his explanation doesn't wash….
…Even presuming they did not know that they were doing something that might be illegal, one would hope that they at least had the ethnic sensitivity to realize how it would look to send uniformed guards only to polling places in Latino neighborhoods.…
• Hispanic Caucus Assails Precinct Guard Use, LA Times, November 18, 1988
The 7-member Hispanic Legislative Caucus in Sacramento on Thursday labeled as "vigilantism" the Orange County Republican Party's use of uniformed security guards on Election Day at 20 Santa Ana precincts where there are heavily Latino populations.
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The incident has drawn sharp criticism from Republican as well as Democratic and Latino leaders. A bipartisan group is expected to file a lawsuit today to overturn the results of the 72nd Assembly District race, in which all 20 precincts are included.…
• 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.
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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
In a letter to the county's Republican Party, a Jewish anti-discrimination organization expressed "dismay" at the recent posting of uniformed guards at polling places and urged party officials not to use such "harassing tactics" in future elections.
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The letter to Fuentes, 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.
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"It was the unanimous recommendation of our regional board members that we write this letter to you expressing our deep concern and dismay that the Republican Party of Orange County, and you as its chairman, initiated this highly questionable harassing tactic."….
• 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.
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…[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."
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[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.
The full County Republican Central Committee was not informed of the executive panel's decision, Pringle acknowledged. "That's a decision within the role of the executive committee," he said.
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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….
[Crean? Now where have I heard that name before? (Crean Lutheran.)]
• Candidate Says Poll Guard Wanted ID, LA Times, November 24, 1988
A Santa Ana mayoral candidate in the Nov. 8 election said Wednesday that she was ordered by a uniformed guard acting as a partisan poll watcher to produce some sort of personal identification when she voted on Election Day, an apparent violation of state election laws.
Sadie Reid-Benham, who finished third in the mayor's race, said she and her 19-year-old grandson, who was voting for the first time, were questioned by the private security guard at a Santa Ana senior citizens center about 10:30 a.m. Nov. 8.
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The use of the uniformed guards as poll watchers in the 72nd Assembly District has caused a storm of protest and prompted Democrats to file a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the outcome of the election in that district.…
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On Election Day, Reid-Benham said, the guard who questioned her was standing inside the polling place at the corner of 3rd and Ross streets in Santa Ana when she arrived to vote. She said she was surprised when the guard asked her for a "voting card. . . . He seemed to want some sort of identification that I was registered to vote."
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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 (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….LSJC also asserts that the OC GOP eventually settled the lawsuit, paying $400,000. Further,
[The local GOP] also released some evidence gathered during the trial, including a map given to a sign-making company by the GOP campaign that indicated intended sign placement. Signs reading "Thank You Curt Pringle" were to go in predominantly white areas and bilingual signs saying "Non Citizens Can't Vote" were to be placed in largely Latino areas.• 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.
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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….