Local Liberty editor Ken Masugi interviewed Tom
Fuentes, former Chairman of the Orange County
Republican Party. Now heading the Claremont
Institute's Orange County office, he reflected on the
California dream and current political issues, including
the place of local government.
Tom, you recently retired after heading the Orange County Republican Party for 20 years. You were 35 when you began your tenure, so you've seen a lot of California and general political history since then, having served in a variety of positions of trust, including politics, community leadership, and higher education. We are now honored to have you head up the Claremont Institute's Orange County Office. I hope you might reflect on your years in politics and how we might envision California in the decades to come:
What is the California Dream? Is it in danger, or simply changing?
For me, the California Dream is opportunity and freedom. As a sixth generation Californian, my family has been enjoying life in the Golden State since 1834. This has been a place of opportunity and freedom for our family. I
want to be sure that my children and theirs, into the countless generations ahead, have the same freedoms that we have enjoyed.
My great-great-great grandfather arrived in San Diego aboard a ship from Mexico in 1834. He was born aboard another ship that came from Spain in 1810. Both he, and his parents before him, suffered hardships and trials so that he could reach this magnificent place we call California.
Today, I see ever growing government and more restrictions on our freedoms as Californians. Our state capital is infested with special interests and the average Californian
has to pick up the tab to support the government and special interest elites. The administrative state is constantly more present in our lives. Each session of the state legislature adds to the burden. Big government, big unions, and big business have an excess of influence in
the current direction of California.
Each year, the state spends more than it takes in. There still is a very strong entitlement mentality in the legislature. The bonded indebtedness of our children and grandchildren is growing at a horrific pace.
We are mortgaging their future and that will limit their freedom, too.
What does this Dream mean for the state, localities, and the nation?
We need less government in California, not more. Conservatives rallied to launch a recall to toss out Gray Davis because he wanted to foist $10 billion of bonded indebtedness on our people to pay for over spending.
After Davis was recalled, the new state administration promoted the passage of a $15 billion bond package. Now, another $6 billion of bonds and interest have been sold to the voters to pay for stem cell research to the benefit of special interests. It all makes you wonder what was accomplished by the recall.
California was the place from which came Proposition 13 and Ronald Reagan. This state gave to the nation a conservative agenda of reform. I hope that vision is not
How does the November Republican victory nationwide reflect on the American/California Dream?
I liked the county-by-county, red versus blue map of the nation that was published after the election. It showed that most of California is red. That is to say, most of the
communities of our state voted for President Bush. The Kerry victory in California came from the blue urban core areas.
I believe that the map demonstrates that the good and morally motivated people in most of California's towns and communities share common values with the vast majority
of their countrymen.
I travel a great deal to Washington, D.C. for my work on the board of the Legal Services Corporation to which I was
appointed by the President. When I go to our nation's capital, I am very cognizant of the political differences between that place and the community in which I live. Orange County delivered the highest numerical margin of votes for the President of any county in the nation. Winning this one election does not mean there is not still an enormous amount of work to do to implement a conservative agenda both nationally and in California.
Is California out of step on moral issues that many cite as giving Bush the edge over Kerry and the Democrats in the last election?
I think that most Californians are good people who share noble ideals.
On the other hand, California is home to Hollywood and its violence and vulgarity. I do think that the recent election, however, shows that Hollywood's values are not the American people's values.
To win elections, a party has to have something to offer the voters in ideas and candidates. The party of Lincoln, Reagan and Bush has to have a fair forum in which the people can then demonstrate their preferences.
Today, the congressional and state legislative districts of California are all out of balance. It is virtually impossible to win a district based on a debate of substantive issues when the apportionment of registered
voters is so lopsided.
We must have major state reform with respect to redistricting. The process must be more independent. Clearly, a conflict of interest is present when legislators are drawing up their own districts. Redistricting has become the tool of incumbents to sustain themselves in office, even if it means forfeiting real democracy. We cannot allow that to continue.
For example, here in the Orange County community, where we have a margin of a quarter of a million more Republicans than Democrats registered to vote, not one district changed party hands on November 2nd. The incumbents are
protected in both parties.
I want to see the day again when substantive issues are debated, and the people vote for a party's candidate because he or she offers the best ideas in real debate. Unless and until Californians can engage fully in a genuine and ongoing debate about right and wrong and good and bad in politics, I'm afraid little will change.
You seem to have great confidence in the capacity of people to make choices on the basis of an appeal to their intelligence and their judgment of character. Needless to say, this is not the way most political campaigns are run. Has this gotten worse in the time you've been involved in politics?
After every election, when I review the results, I see the wisdom of the people. Their collective intelligence always refreshes and reinvigorates me. But, the people are challenged ever more by the dominance of big money in politics today. Many paid political consultants are driven by the dollar, not by noble ideas or philosophy. Big dollars also tend to put distance between the candidates and their parties, too. We saw this happen recently when the leadership of the California Republican Party voted in full convention to oppose the stem cell research bond measure and the Louisiana-style primary proposal, yet the Governor broke with the party and backed both measures.
Tom, you have seen what the Governor has to say in his 2005 State of the State message before the Legislature. What success do you think his new agenda will have?
I suspect that this will be a matter of pure political will and determination. If the Governor will use all of his weight room training and powers of concentration in
going up against the traditionally immoveable forces in Sacramento, he may be able to achieve some progress. If he flinches, his opponents will take advantage of any weakness.
I am sure that every thinking taxpayer would like him to succeed.
I am delighted to see his pledge to reform the redistricting process. Nothing will change in the governance of our state, if we do not first have reform in the way the districts are apportioned. This will require some very noble and concrete action.
The current reapportionment assures a locked-in control of one party. It leaves little room for the debate of ideas. We need to create a political environment where ideas of reform can be moved forward by a legislature who expresses the will of the people. The current unfair district lines skew the entire democratic process.
Are there other things you liked about his speech?
I am impressed by the Governor's candor in identifying the government worker labor unions, especially the teachers, as key elements of the problem. The entitlements of money and benefits, especially retirement, will eventually bankrupt California if not soon checked.
With the influence of so many special interests in the capital, both from big labor and big business, and with such a few Republicans in the state senate and assembly, it will be hard to achieve real progress. But, I am sure that the Governor knows that the people want reform. Perhaps he will have to go to the people as he said he wants to do.
Illegal immigration is often cited as an issue by those who want a Republican revival in California. Is this overrated as an issue? How should it be pursued?
So far, neither party has come up with any successful solutions to the issue of illegal immigration. Personally, I favor a vigorous guest worker program as California experienced decades ago.
People will continue to come to California from other states and from other nations. We need some practical solutions.
Enormous sectors of the California economy are dependent on immigrant labor. Presently Mexico is the source of much of that labor. Mexicans continue to come here, legally and illegally, to seek opportunity for themselves and their families. Improvement in government and society in Mexico has to occur before that flow will ever slow down.
From Asia, many Vietnamese have settled in California. They have been a strong Republican voting community. Several immigrant Vietnamese-American Republicans have
been elected to public office.
Tom, don't the critics deride guest worker programs as "amnesty"? Is this wrong and/or demagogic? How do we get beyond slogans here?
We must be about teaching the principles and ideals of the American founding to all who reside in our borders.
America is special. It is different in its reasons for existence. It would appear that neither party, when in power, is willing to deport anyone from this magnificent nation.
I do not want to give up hope for substantive immigration reform, but if our borders are not secure, whoever is here, legally or illegally, must be taught what it is to be an American. The Claremont Institute is ideally suited to work in this area. We can stimulate programs on national, state and local levels.
Your career has been marked by devotion to following principle and at the same time expanding the base of the party. What advice can you give to young politicians and those who are cynical about politics and how to match principle and electability?
There is still great opportunity for young people to do great things in politics. I always stress to them, that if they want to achieve great things, they must concentrate on what they want to do, not who they want to be.
I believe that America's conservative party, the Republican Party, has great potential to grow in the ethnic communities that are growing in the population of California. But, these new neighbors must be addressed in the same way as the Bush campaign did so successfully in
the election of 2004.
The Republican Party must outreach with a conservative message. Nationwide, the campaign found success in reaching Hispanics and Catholics, for example. In 2004, Catholic support for Bush was up to 52%--six points higher
than in 2000. Among Hispanics, Bush's numbers grew to 40% in 2004, up five points from the totals in 2000.
But reaching these constituencies in California will be a real challenge. The state party today is in the hands of moderates, not conservatives. Many from big business, and moneyed moderates, do not want to encourage a more conservative party.
Our ethnic community neighbors have deeply held values. A party can only appeal to them in a noble fashion with substantive ideals and principles if it truly wants them to join. Furthermore, a principled party must give these new members a place at the table when it asks them for their votes. Ronald Reagan knew and understood this concept.
Neither the old Eastern Liberal Establishment nor the new Western so-called Moderate Establishment wants to share power. But, a party with money and no people is soon
not a party.
On what local government issues should Republicans consider uniting? How should conservatives link local issues to state and national ones?
I have the privilege of serving as a trustee of a large community college district. As a local elected official, I am always amazed at how often local elected officials, who are registered Republicans, forget conservative ideals in their local decision-making. I know many a local elected official who has never met a new government program he or she did not like. We must teach what it is to be a conservative to those who serve in city, county and school posts.
As an example, the labor unions are as aggressive in the cities and school districts, as they are in Sacramento. I see self-identified Republican city council members and school trustees voting for outlandish salaries, retirement benefits and entitlement programs for public employees with
little regard for the taxpayer. I see property rights challenged by these same people.
Tell us about your work for the Claremont Institute in its new Orange County Office.
I am delighted to be serving the Institute at its new offices in Newport Beach. Orange County has always had a
warm spot in its heart for The Claremont Institute. The Institute has so many able and articulate scholars. I want to help get out their message to the people of Southern California and to recruit neighbors to support the work of the Institute in sharing the message of the American Founding in our contemporary political life. We have begun to have some fine showcase events to get more exposure for
the work of the Institute. It's an exciting time.
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