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Fuentes Will Ask 3rd Term Despite Furor

Times Staff Writer

Despite the controversy over his role in posting uniformed security guards at Santa Ana polling places last November, Thomas A. Fuentes says he will seek a third term on Monday as chairman of the Orange County Republican Party.

Fuentes, citing Republican voter-registration gains in the county, contends that he has strengthened the party locally during his 4 years as boss of the party’s county operation. Fuentes, 39, is expected to be unopposed when the 66-member county Republican Central Committee meets Monday to select new officers.

A hard-working, aggressive political operative, Fuentes is a central figure in the uproar over the party’s use of uniformed security guards in the November general election to warn non-citizens not to vote. Fuentes acknowledged that he authorized payment of about $4,000 for the guards, who were stationed at 20 polling places in heavily Latino precincts in Santa Ana.

Republican leaders have said that the guards were hired to ensure against voter fraud because of anonymous tips that illegally registered voters were to be bused to the polls in the 72nd Assembly District. The use of the guards prompted Democrats to file a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the outcome of the election in that district, where Republican Curt Pringle defeated Democrat Christian F. (Rick) Thierbach by fewer than 900 of the more than 66,000 votes cast.

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Fuentes said the only protest over the county party’s role in the guard’s hiring has come from Democrats or the press. He said Republican officeholders and activists “have encouraged me to seek the chairmanship of the party again.”

In support of his candidacy, Fuentes suggested that 1988 was the most successful year ever for county Republicans. After a major push last year, Republicans have a voter-registration lead of 240,000 over Democrats. Fuentes also pointed to President-elect Bush’s 314,000-vote margin of victory in the county over Democrat Michael Dukakis. It was the largest such margin of any county in the country.

The GOP Central Committee is scheduled to meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel in Costa Mesa.

County Democrats are also scheduled to choose a new party leader Monday.

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Attorney Michael G. Balmages of Santa Ana is running against former local party Vice Chairman Hazel Stover of Orange. The current chairman, attorney John Hanna of Santa Ana, is not seeking reelection.


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