Published on Thursday, August 24, 2000 in the Los Angeles Times
California State Senate Gives Tom Hayden A Tearful Send Off
by Jenifer Warren and Carl Ingram
But in a tearful tribute Wednesday that lasted nearly two hours, Tom Hayden's colleagues from both sides of the aisle toasted the former antiwar leader and member of the Chicago Seven as a man of intellect and principle who inspired them to be better than they were.
"Tom, people have voted against your bills more than anyone else's," said Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sylmar), Hayden's colleague in the upper legislative chamber. "But I think it is amazing that you are getting the longest tribute. It is almost like people are saying we wish we could be more like you."
Term limits are forcing the Los Angeles Democrat from office. But though Hayden said his immediate plan is to spend time with his infant son, Liam, he may leap back into politics as early as January with a run for Mike Feuer's seat on the Los Angeles City Council.
If he doesn't, this year could cap a long political career blending left-wing activism with more mainstream impulses. Hayden has run for governor, Los Angeles mayor and the U.S. Senate, and this month marched with protesters outside the Democratic National Convention.
"Through it all, he has stayed true to himself," said Darryl Young, his former chief of staff. "He didn't let the process or the system change him."
Held before the chaos of the Legislature's final week begins Monday, Wednesday's celebration of the goateed senator's tenure was among the longest and most sentimental political send-offs old-timers here can remember. His wife, Barbara Williams, was there, as was his older son, Troy Garity, and numerous friends.
As Hayden looked on from his seat in the ornate Senate chambers--sometimes smiling, sometimes wiping away tears--his colleagues, Democrat and Republican alike, rose to herald the man who routinely struggled to win their votes for his often-controversial bills.
An idealist who sometimes irritated fellow lawmakers with his self-righteous streak, Hayden, 60, was nevertheless regarded as one of the Legislature's brightest thinkers, someone ever ready with new approaches to old problems.
And although his success at pushing through legislation was mixed, he was a persistent champion of the poor, public education and the environment--and a tenacious watchdog unafraid to ask tough questions during budget time.
Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) called Hayden one of the "legends of this institution" and said he "challenged all of us to question the status quo." Summing up the sentiments of many who lament Hayden's forced exit, Speier added: "Damn term limits."
Several speakers referred to Hayden's legendary persistence on issues that either held little appeal for other legislators--or were considered too politically risky. He has, for example, criticized the state's multibillion-dollar prison building boom and pushed for campaign finance reform.
Calling Hayden "the last of the true believers," Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City) said that many who heaped praise upon the '60s activist Wednesday had, at some point, also muttered, "That damn Hayden is at it again."
Republican Sen. Maurice Johannessen of Redding, a Korean War era veteran, said that when he first encountered Hayden, he had "grave misgivings. . . . But as time went on, Tom managed to educate me a little."
Tom Hayden was a household name long before he arrived in the Assembly in 1982. As a college student, he organized Students for a Democratic Society. He later served as a freedom rider, seeking to desegregate the South, and a foot soldier in the war on poverty.
He was best known, however, for his 16-year marriage to actress Jane Fonda and opposition to the Vietnam War. In 1968, he was arrested as a member of the "Chicago Seven" for inciting a riot at the Democratic National Convention.
Given his reputation as an anti-institution guy, his pursuit of a seat in the Legislature--a move he said was encouraged by the late farm worker leader Cesar Chavez--was perplexing to some. Others, including veterans groups, found it downright offensive.
Former GOP Assemblyman Gil Ferguson of Newport Beach even tried to oust Hayden on grounds that he "aided and abetted" North Vietnam. True to form, Hayden retorted that Ferguson was "a retired Rambo . . . having a midlife crisis."
Although Ferguson's effort fizzled, Hayden never quite shed his radical image or determination to throw bombs when he felt the system needed a jolt. Indeed, though his manner mellowed a bit when he moved up to the Senate in 1992, Hayden himself once admitted that he often sounded like "fingernails on the blackboard."
In an eloquent farewell speech, he said his time in Sacramento has taught him that "all great ideas don't come from my head" and that compromise and dialogue can lead to meaningful change.
He also said his greatest challenge as a legislator was balancing his values--as a person who questions authority--with the need to win enough votes to get his bills passed.
That eternal challenge, he said, is complicated for all politicians by fear--"fear of losing an election, fear of losing an endorsement." While acknowledging the potency of such threats, Hayden urged his colleagues to stand firm and fight bravely for the ideals they hold dear.
To make that point, the literary senator drew from a saying favored by prisoners in Northern Ireland. The inmates, he recalled, like to say, "We're there, but we will not meekly serve our time."
"I think all of us should take that admonition to heart," Hayden said, his eyes rimmed with tears. "Let us not meekly serve our time."
Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times