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Changing of the Guard for Orange County GOP : Incoming Chairman Sees Party's Role as 'Anchor to the Right' for State : ORANGE COUNTY NEWSMAKER

January 07, 1985|KIM MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

The trouble started just about the time that Fuentes' invitations to tonight's Ambrosia reception arrived in the mail, and it was learned that he had already designated a new executive director for the county party organization--Greg Haskin, a former employee of the state party organization and the Senate Republican Caucus who managed Ferguson's bitter primary campaign last year in the 70th Assembly District.

Ferguson emerged the victor in a field of seven candidates in a campaign that had become a battleground for the Republican Party's moderate and conservative wings. Some of the county's most powerful moderate party leaders, including Supervisor Bruce Nestande, Sheriff Brad Gates and a number of corporate presidents, lined up behind candidate Ken Carpenter.

When Nestande heard about the hiring of Haskin, he was immediately on the phone to Fuentes.

"The duties of the party are to number one, raise money for general election candidates, number two, registration, and number three, get out the vote. You can't be messing around in primaries and honestly and truthfully fulfill that role," Nestande said. "He (Haskin) was involved in a very tough primary fight. Now the question is, can he rise above that and work for the whole party?"

Fuentes has tended to dismiss the issue.

"Everyone has the right to voice their opinion, and I just have to put that in the computer and make the best choice I can," Fuentes said. "I have a keen regard for Bruce's opinion, but by that time, I had already made the selection."

A number of party leaders say the issue is far from resolved, however. "With Nestande and Fuentes, it's really getting to be an undeclared war," said one. "The soldiers are already lined up."

Soldiers? Tom Fuentes? The former seminary student who still clasps his hands, prayer-like, whenever he is trying to make a particularly important point? The man of whom state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) said simply: "I'd love to have the concession where he buys his roses"?

"First of all," he says (the hands clasped), "in the course of these next few years, it's my hope to never speak in the first person: I. As party chairman, it's vital that with the executive committee, we speak as we. There is a more conservative leadership across the board, I would say, in the complexion of the county party. But what is conservative? My name will be placed in nomination by Sen. John Seymour, and it'll be seconded by Gil Ferguson. Take your choice. I mean, you apply the titles. I'm committed to be the chairman of all the Republicans in the county . . . . It's not going to be by my doing that the party moves in any philosophical direction."

Nonetheless, Fuentes has his own ideas about what it means to be a Republican in Orange County.

"The figure that is probably most telling is the fact that we're 157,172 more registered Republicans than Democrats in Orange County today. That figure is awesome to me, and probably the most burdensome number that I have ever seen, because we have to in this new term maintain and increase that margin.

'Anchor to the Right'

"I see Orange County as an anchor to the right for the California ship of state, and winds gust from the left from West Los Angeles and San Francisco, and in our role as that anchor to the right, we have to be very vigilant about maintaining that registration edge."

Fuentes credits former Supervisor Ronald Caspers for much of his political rearing. He worked as an aide to Caspers for four years in the 1970s. Caspers' boat was lost at sea with 10 aboard--including Caspers --in 1974. (Fuentes would have been aboard the Shooting Star himself on the voyage to celebrate Caspers' reelection to a second term but decided against going at the last moment.) None of the 10 aboard was found.

Fuentes had hoped that he would be appointed to replace Caspers. When he discovered that there was a one-year residency requirement that he did not meet, he decided to carry out an earlier plan to enter a seminary and study for the priesthood.

Before going, Fuentes staged one of his greatest fund-raisers ever--a going-away party that netted him $10,000 from friends and colleagues.

A year later, Fuentes was back. "I found that the pace of seminary life and that monastic setting was just all too slow for me. I could never turn the motors off to slow down to that pace which is required to serve in the capacity of priesthood."

'Spiritual Quality'

"Tom has a spiritual quality about him," says Stan Oftelie, director of the Orange County Transportation Commission. "He has a real warmth about him. I could see Tom Fuentes as a priest. He has the quality of knowing everyone in the congregation. He gives me the belief that, yes, he knows what my problems are and he sympathizes with them."

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