Wu: TJ Fuentes is a chip off an amazing block

TJ Fuentes. Remember that name.

By the time Thomas A. "Tom" Fuentes was 25, he was the chief of staff for an Orange County supervisor. He had been walking precincts for many Republican candidates, and was on his path to leadership within the Republican Party of Orange County, where his tenure would span decades and leave such an indelible mark on local politics that people still fondly remember his time as chairman, eight years after he stepped down.

The path Tom took was through the party structure, through the grassroots level. While money played a necessary part in the party machine, it wasn't the most important part. Cultivating and keeping volunteers, telling them that their involvement was as important as the fellow who could write a check.

Tom did all that by standing by his principles, teaching everyone that while moneyed people come and go, the principled ones are here to stay.

Principles over politics is what gives you longevity in this "business."

I remember, years ago, speaking with UC Irvine student Thomas A. Fuentes Jr. (TJ), and I asked him what he wanted to do when he "grew up."

"What my dad does," he said.

Well, that takes years and years to cultivate, years and years of crazy blood, sweat and tears, and you need a base from which to build.

At the same age, Tom had been knee-deep in politics for almost a decade, while TJ was a star water polo player, and his only real exposure to politics was when some mucky muck would visit the house, and he would happen by on his way to his room or on his way out of the house.

But what a difference a few years made for the now 25-year-old TJ.

Since Tom's liver transplant four years ago, TJ has been at his father's side at almost every political meeting, and every political lunch and dinner, quietly soaking up every bit of information spoken, written and implied.

TJ started attending the Republican Party of Orange County Central Committee meetings, asking me, texting me, emailing me, "Who is that?" "Why are they doing this?" "What does that person do for a living?"

Tom, TJ and I drove up to Sacramento for the California Republican Party State Convention last March so TJ could meet, see, eat, listen and learn at the state level the difference between principles and politics.

And while Tom was in hospice care, TJ stayed close and continued to learn while also grabbing what tidbits of information Tom's students like me could contribute.

But added to that vast knowledge, the finishing piece of an amazing education was when Tom Phillips decided to move out west permanently in 2009.

Phillips, chairman for Eagle Publishing, is the founding chairman of the National Conservative Campaign Fund, among other influential, conservative-based organizations. He was also a longtime and close friend to Tom.

TJ became Phillips' assistant and had a front row seat to another part of politics that most mere mortals could only hope to be touched by: the major donor community. Phillips has been a benefactor to countless conservative causes and candidates for numerous years.

Now, in order to get to Phillips, you would mostly have to get through TJ first. His education of reading people, learning about their political motivations and intentions, would be part of his job description.

Couple this with Tom's lessons in principles over politics, and TJ has the potential to become the most insightful and wily political monster at the tender age of 25.

TJ is on the Orange County Young Republicans Board of Directors. Along with fellow newly-minted board member Josh Yocam, TJ has started to build membership and get the young Republicans back to the days of unparalleled activism they experienced when Tom was still in charge of the Republican Party of Orange County.

But his biggest achievement is being on the ballot for the first time. He could be a Republican Party of Orange County Central Committee representative for the 74th Assembly District. Yes, Thomas A. Fuentes Jr. is following in his father's footsteps, hoping to keep the family name in the OCGOP's governing body, where's it's been for almost 40 years.

If you follow Orange County Republican politics, pay close attention to the Fuentes name, as TJ will be shining bright for decades to come.

JACK WU is an accountant who lives in Newport Beach and practices in Costa Mesa. He is a longtime Republican Party loyalist and a volunteer campaign treasurer for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa). His column runs Sundays on the Daily Pilot Forum page. He can be reached at jack@wubell.com.

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