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Wu: TJ Fuentes is a chip off an amazing block

June 01, 2012|By Jack Wu

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.

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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.

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