RIP Thomas Fuentes, 1948-2012

Thomas Alexander Fuentes, long time Director of Communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, and also Chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County, died in May 2012.  People had actually expected him to die the previous fall, but he hung on, held court from his bed, helped and advised people, and occasionally actually showed up, as when Rick Perry came to town.

Tom’s ancestors in the male line did not come to America; he was among the rare Hispanic surnamed people in California whose ancestors were here when American troops arrived in 1847.  Not that he minded; he loved the country that had come to his ancestors, and made sure that the Pledge of Allegiance to it was said at any event he chaired.  It must be said that he was definitely a criollo, as white Mexicans are called, which meant he was not always regarded as the most authentic example of Latino aspirations by many Latinos. However, he did not alienate himself completely, by any means, from the language and culture of his ancestors; he would organize regular trips to Baja California for charitable purposes.  And he had a lot of charitable purposes for the OC as well; among other things, he helped get the Orange County Food Bank off the ground, and it is one of the few functioning entities actually to be found in the Great Park.

If Tom and his Republican cohorts did not like government welfare, they believed just as strongly that people, as people, should care about the poor, and help organizations that dealt with them effectively.  And government should not interfere with groups of this sort.  [To make it clear:  I do not wish to abolish all government welfare, but government welfare reflects not the compassion of a society, but rather is a provision for the lack of compassion of a society.]

The Republican Party of Tom Fuentes was not a party for Social Darwinists who thought the rich were ‘deserving’ and that the non-rich were ‘losers’ who were trashy people and, most especially, undesirable neighbors that should be zoned out or redeveloped out by government.  It was not a party for those suburbanites who were motivated by what famous evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer called “the two horrible values of personal peace and affluence.”  It was not a party for crony capitalists who depended on governments, centralized or local, issuing them favors.  It was a party that a Christian could belong to. [There were ways in which he was a bit of a snob, however; he claimed he could tell people’s political party by the shape of their yard.]

After he stepped down from the chairmanship in 2005, the Republican Party was taken over by disciples of Grover Norquist and the talk-show hosts John and Ken.  Their shibboleth became “No Tax Shall Ever Be Raised Ever Ever.”  This is the ‘starve the beast’ strategy, which doesn’t work.  The public employee unions and the elderly middle class will continue to have their huge pensions and entitlements, while programs that actually help the poor, and spending on infrastructure, will be decimated.  And so will state parks.

I will concede two things, however:

1. The ‘starve the beasters’ may have induced Jerry Brown and the Democrats to act contrary to their big-government nature and abolish redevelopment.  It might not have happened without the Norquistoids.  The abolition of redevelopment was a major step forward in social justice for California.

2. The state income tax is too ‘progressive’ and top-heavy on the rich, whose fortunes – and therefore the state’s fortunes – fluctuate radically with the economy.  The solution to this, however, will at least partially involve a tax raise on the non-rich.

Anyhow, in the day of Tom Fuentes I could be a Republican; I can’t now.

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