Saturday, January 15, 2011

Is the local GOP finally changing? (Tom Fuentes: brass knucks and roses)

     Jan 15: Things are changing in this county. Maybe.
     It’s still pretty much a Republican county, and there’s much left of the party machine created by Tom Fuentes between 1985 and 2004, when, somehow, the colorful brute was finally compelled to step down.
     A member of Fuentes’ inner circle took over: Scott Baugh, a fellow almost as slimy and ruthless as Fuentes.
     Two weeks ago, the OC Weekly’s R. Scott Moxley described the ascendancy of the Baughster (Scott Baugh Gets a Challenger):
Baugh—a graduate of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and a glad-handing lobbyist who has cashed in on his undeniable political influence since leaving the state assembly a decade ago—first grabbed the chairmanship in 2004 after Tom Fuentes served in the role for 20 years. His admirers say he has done a decent job raising money and settling disputes between Republicans. He can certainly count on indefinite backing from establishment heavyweights like Michael J. Schroeder, Mark Bucher and Dana Rohrabacher.
     As you know, when Fuentes entered our world (the SOCCCD) in the bleak summer of 2000, Fuentes (the County Chair) and Schroeder (who briefly served as state chair) were attached at the hip. Since Fuentes’ fall in ‘04, Schroeder’s influence has grown, and, for many years now, people have spoken of him as Darth Vader, overseeing a “Republican mafia.”
     Schroeder is every bit as ruthless as his pal Fuentes.
     During Fuentes’ day, people grumbled about the Imperious One’s bias in favor of far right-wingers and his demand for absolute loyalty, and even for obeisance, to the party—i.e., to him. He was the kind of chair who routinely inspired the question, “Who the hell does that guy think he is, anyway?
     In 2004, Fuentes’ baton was handed to Baugh, a fellow very much of Fuentes’ culture of influence and political stars and schmoozerei—plus such practices as the careful nurturing and mentoring of talented young men:
…[I]n recent years, there's been mounting internal party dissatisfaction with what some consider Baugh's cutthroat management style, his backing of disgraced Sheriff Mike Carona long after it was clear he was a crook, his refusal to obey party bylaws that call for regular audits of party finances, his close association to a relentless pedophile who targeted 7th and 8th grade boys and the local party's dwindling voter registration numbers.
     This “Tea Party” thing has shaken things up a bit, too. Tea Partiers may be stupid (well, ignorant), but they have a populist streak, and they hate the kind of “run by rich guys” Republicanism that Fuentes and his ilk have always gravitated to.
     Fuentes is all “Balboa Bay Club.” The Tea Party, however, is Walmart—and Jesus, blue-collar division.
     Tim Whitacre, an ex-Marine and long-time grass roots activist, seems to be the “Jesus” type. Like some Tea Partiers, he also embraces a Boy Scout straight-arrowism and an intolerance of corruption. In many ways, he’s the anti-Fuentes (and anti-Baugh).
     He’s challenging Baugh’s County chairmanship. The election is on Monday. Most people think Whitacre hasn’t got a prayer. On the other hand, lots of local Republicans in the blogosphere seem to want Whitacre to win, in part because they appreciate Whitacre’s earnestness and purity, but mostly because they want to throw the bums out. (See also O.C. GOP leadership under attack)

* * * * *

     Yesterday, our friend Vern of the Orange Juice blog posted Whitacre’s platform or (as Vern would have it) his “manifesto” (Tim Whitacre releases his Platform).
     I have taken the liberty of editing Whitacre’s statement (as it appeared in OJ) down to a page or so, and I’ve added my own headings.
     I’m thinking that we can get a pretty good idea of what Whitacre and his followers think of Baugh and his crew (Schroeder, et al.) by noting what his “manifesto” rejects:

Our problem isn’t the Democrats; our problem is entrenched leadership that has lost its … heading and has become tone deaf to The People who they were elected to represent.


Across the nation we have become complacent and have allowed a select few with money to dictate to us the direction the Party will go in under the guise of, “We have to become a bigger tent and the way to do that is to concentrate on the fiscal part of our Party Platform only.” The biggest problem with that failed experiment, my friends, is when we abandon our Social Platform that strengthens individuals and families; we take God completely out of the picture except for “honorary mention” at the beginning of a meeting. I believe it has been proven that when we only elect “fiscally conservative” men and women, we get anything but that and now we are paying the price… I believe we must commit to supporting and electing only ethical Republicans who display a strong sense of integrity in their personal lives and a commitment to our Constitution, our Party Platform and our Bylaws....


Locally, as a County Party Central Committee, we have all observed what many perceive to be a lack of ethics and integrity when it comes to adherence to our Bylaws by our current Leadership: We had the unprecedented Carona debacle that utterly decimated us in the eyes of the public (i.e. Carona was assured an endorsement for his monetary contribution months earlier); we had two voter registration scandals resulting in fraud (i.e. against advice, Leadership twice hired the same out-of-state firm for voter registration which falsely registered people as Republicans without their knowledge and consent.); and, we have observed preferential treatment of selected Republican candidates by Leadership while other fine Republicans were cast aside (i.e. most recently the Irvine City Council election this past November).
. . .
I will ALWAYS adhere to the letter of our Bylaws, never seeking ways around it to advance anyone’s personal agenda at the expense of our Party’s Principles and reputation. The OCGOP will never be “for sale” with me. No man or woman will ever be placed above our Bylaws for any reason. Transparency of actions will be encouraged.
. . .

The Executive Committee serves the Central Committee; NOT the other way around. There will be no more secrecy and heavy-handedness as many of you groan about now.
. . .

I will propose a Bylaw Amendment that requires all elected Officers to file an internal …Financial Disclosure Statement… that reveals and discloses to the Members any potential conflicts of interest that may compromise the integrity of the Party. We must be diligent (ALL IN) in protecting the good name of our Local Party. We must trust but verify our Officers are always placing the Party’s best interest ahead of their own.
. . .
At the February 2011 Central Committee meeting, …we will discuss what we – as a Body – want to accomplish as a County Party; determine and estimate what that will cost us; come up with a budget approved by the majority; then all Members will know what the fundraising goals are….

Participatory Governance (ALL IN) will be the Order of the Day with me as your Chairman.
. . .
I will allow for a Member to only Chair one committee (as opposed to the current practice of multiple Chairmanships for a single Member)….


I believe the strength of our Party and its ability to accomplish its mission in Orange County is completely dependent upon a highly motivated, well-equipped, well-respected Volunteer Base. We must encourage greater involvement with these groups. We must maintain strong partnerships with them. We must ensure we never lose sight of their significance and importance (ALL IN).
. . .

Friends, if you take nothing else away from my proposed “ALL IN” Plan for our County Party, I want you to understand this: We are an Elected Body of …73 able-bodied, intelligent, men and women who were elected to represent over 699,000 registered Republicans in Orange County. Additionally, we are tasked to reach out to the remaining 1.6 million voters …, and encourage them to consider our Platform; explain why it’s best for them; and invite them to join us as a means to a better life for them and their families.


This is an impossible task for only a portion of us to undertake and be successful at! We must do better than we have done and we must be ALL IN if we are to make great gains. If you’re satisfied with just having an elected title and you only come to Central Committee meetings to listen to Leadership tell you what they’re doing, then you probably don’t want to vote for me to be your Chairman for the next term….
     —Whitacre clearly shares Tom Fuentes’ comfort combining politics and religion. They’re both social conservatives who believe in small government.
     But Whitacre seems to love the grass roots, whereas Fuentes contemns them (remember his take on people's lawns?). Whitacre wants transparency and “ethics.” Fuentes prefers secrecy and dark machinations.
     I’m beginning to think that Whitacre is the kind of wide-eyed conservative who really believes in and wants honest government.
     Like I said. He’s the anti-Fuentes.


     Fuentes hangs out at the Balboa Bay Club, but he’s not really one of those people. He’s a wannabe. His affectations and eccentric over-enunciations of words notwithstanding, he’s not particularly well-educated. Have you noticed that he accepts honors from universities? He doesn’t seem to care that they are dubious—worthless, really. He’s on the board of a well-known publisher—although the books it puts out are strictly Flintstonian.
     He hates intellectuals because he’s not one of them, and he knows it. He hates academics because, in some sense, they really do live in an ivory tower, a zone of purity, whereas Tom has had to grind through the muck—walking precincts in his teens and twenties, and in a particularly hard-ball venue of political America: the Orange County of the 60s, then the 70s. He worships Richard Nixon, a man much like himself, combining spectacular ambition with utter self-loathing.
     Starting in the mid-seventies, he made his living making “friends” and keeping customers satisfied—a shabby, nasty thing. He forever slogged through the muck, battled for territory and power, all the while cozying up to the rich and powerful. He was brass knucks and roses.
     After all that work, especially with the rise in conservative fortunes in 2000, he sought a promotion in stature: an impressive appointment from his good pal George W. But (they said), he had put himself before his party, and he had done that more than once, and so, in the end, he got crap.
     He sits in the Ronnie Reagan Room of the Siberian Community College District, his influence waning, his machinations now failing. His body has betrayed him. Lord knows what he had to do to get that liver.
     Poor man.
* * * *
     Some of us have been trying to bring the dark and incestous and clubby world of OC Republicanism ‘n’ business into clearer view. One such effort is our story of Tom Fuentes and the online auction firm LFC.
     To make a long story short, a week ago, the OC Reg finally climbed on the story, asking an official with the Fair Political Practices Commission whether it is kosher for Fuentes, an elected official (qua trustee), to fail to list LFC on his statements of economic interest (required by law).
     We know that, for years, Fuentes declared himself to be a “Senior Vice President” of LFC. He had an office there. He used, and still uses, LFC’s email.
     And we happen to know (from a source) that Fuentes called trustees at the Coast Community College District, urging them to use LFC to help sell that silly island they had.
     I call that “working for LFC.”
     Beyond that, the law is such that taking a title (e.g., “VP”) of a company counts as an economic interest. I think that's because titles tend to have value.
     But the law requires of Fuentes, as an elected official, that he state any economic interests. Voila.

* * * * *
     The local GOP mafia has its fixers and flacks. Attorney Phil Greer is among the former (his clients have included John Williams, Raghu Mathur, Chriss Street, and four of the recent County Supervisors).
     Matt Cunningham of “Red County” is among the latter. A few days ago, Cunningham came to Tom’s rescue (When Is No Economic Interest An Economic Interest?).
     The essence of Cunningham’s defense is that Fuentes received no money from LFC. Hence, he had no economic interest in the firm.
     Cunningham especially seizes on the title “Senior VP.” According to Cunningham, it is a mere “courtesy title.” It is, he says, “purely honorary.”
     Yeah, but Fuentes put the title in lots of places, including his business cards and his official SOCCCD bio. Why did he do that?
     The point of the law in question is to prevent conflicts of interest. There can be little doubt that Fuentes benefited from the title. He mentioned it a lot. That suggests that it was valuable to him. Why else put it on his business card?
     And it appears that Fuentes went to bat for LFC (as we’ve reported). Evidently, he also brought about the meeting that led to the county’s using LFC’s services recently (in connection with John Williams’ office).
     I wonder what Mr. Whitacre thinks of all this?

P.S.: LOBBYIST? Just what does Tom do? Since 1975, he has worked for several firms, often engaged in efforts to lobby entities (e.g., cities, water districts) to use those firms. I noticed something odd about Tom's departure from one firm in the early 90s:  Robert Bein, William Frost & Associates. I found an old LA Times article that sheds light on that mystery:

     …[Robert Bein, William Frost & Associates or RBF] employs the services of two well-known political figures—county Republican Party chairman Thomas Fuentes and Costa Mesa City Councilman Peter F. Buffa, who also sits on the agency overseeing the San Joaquin Hills toll road.
     RBF has given officeholders tens of thousands of dollars' worth of gifts and campaign donations. And it has hosted many politicians at special company events, such as an annual Christmas party aboard a yacht in Newport Harbor and an Easter prayer breakfast at Le Meridien Hotel in Newport Beach.
     The company appears to have developed a particularly close relationship with top officials at the Santa Margarita Water District.
     RBF has provided district General Manager Walter W. (Bill) Knitz and his assistant, Michael P. Lord, with nearly $14,000 worth of meals, trips and other gifts in recent years—at the same time the firm was receiving about $13 million in engineering work from the water district.
     The FBI and the Orange County district attorney are now seeking to determine whether Lord and his boss violated federal or state laws governing the gifts that public officials can receive from people who have business before them.
     Friday, both water district officials were suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigations.

[So I guess certain kinds of lobbying can seem like, um, bribery. At least to some folks.]


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

no such thing as an "ex-marine" it is former marine. thank you


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