Here they come again after Tom Fuentes.
And this time with cash on the barrel head.
Fuentes isn't old enough to be venerable (only 51), but he's in the middle of his eighth two-year term as head of the Orange County Republican Party. That makes him at least a local icon in Republican circles but, once again, he's hearing it from within the ranks that he's outlived his usefulness.
Too abrasive, too arrogant, too implacably conservative.
The last time Fuentes heard that kind of talk was a year or so ago, in the months leading up to the party chairman vote in January 1999. On that night, with 225 people in attendance, Fuentes was elected on a voice vote with a single 'no' heard in the midst of the din.
So much for the revolution.
Back then, the group of GOP moderates who thought Fuentes too politically conservative and personally hard-boiled for the job called itself Republicans for New Directions.
This time around, a group of Orange County business executives calling itself the New Majority Committee is saying that local and state Republican politics must moderate to attract new voters.
The group has ponied up $500,000 to push its agenda.
That should be enough to get one's attention, but spoken like a man who can count heads on the county's Central Committee, Fuentes has dismissed the group as a bunch of country club Republicans not committed enough to core conservative values.
Which side proves to be right will define Orange County politics at least over the next decade.
More precisely, it will define "conservatism." The county is probably too suburban and too wealthy to be anything but politically conservative for the foreseeable future. But just how conservative does it want to be?
Does it want to use the abortion issue as a litmus test for candidates for significant county races? How about gun control? School prayer?
Counting Heads and Dollars
Matt Cunningham is a staunch conservative and Central Committee member from 1992-94 who says Fuentes has "rock-solid" support on the committee.
"You know what's ironic about this," Cunningham says. "In Tom's day-to-day duties as chairman, the criticism I usually hear is from the fringe right, that he's not pro-life enough, that he was too supportive of [former Gov.] Pete Wilson."
Cunningham is less than thrilled with the New Majority Committee. "They're like [Republicans for] New Directions, with money," Cunningham says.
I ask if he chuckles at the suggestions of a Fuentes ouster. "I don't chuckle," Cunningham says. "It's more that I shake my head. A half-million dollars is a lot of money. If they were really interested in building the party, there's a lot of good things they could do with that."
The county GOP has seen its percentage of registered voters drop from 55% in 1990 to less than 50%. It still dominates county politics numerically but it obviously isn't expanding its base.
The road to Fuentes lies through the 42 elected and 18 ex-officio members of the Central Committee.
If money talks in politics, then half a million dollars in local races is a full-throated scream. And the New Majority Committee made it clear last week that it plans to spend its money electing more moderate candidates to the Central Committee.
"They want to take over the Central Committee but they don't understand what it does or its purpose," Cunningham says. "If they did, they would put their money elsewhere. If this is just to get Tom Fuentes, it's a criminal waste of money--to spend half a million dollars to take out one guy for no good reason."
Fuentes has another year to go as chairman. Who knows, maybe he'll decide that eight terms is enough.
A year ago, when that rousing voice vote got him elected, he said, "The reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated."
You get the feeling that a year from now, the sound will be much less rousing.
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821, by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail at email@example.com.