Dan Walters

Democratic leaders silence Nguyen, stir up old conflict

State Sen. Janet Nguyen removed from California Senate floor

This is California Senate footage of state Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Garden Grove, attempting to give a speech criticizing the late Tom Hayden. She was removed from the floor by Senate security.
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This is California Senate footage of state Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Garden Grove, attempting to give a speech criticizing the late Tom Hayden. She was removed from the floor by Senate security.

The state Senate’s Democratic leaders blew it badly Thursday when they forcibly prevented Republican Sen. Janet Nguyen, a refugee from Vietnam, from criticizing the late Tom Hayden.

Earlier in the week, senators took turns lionizing Hayden, who served in the Senate, as a visionary progressive.

Nguyen purposely waited two days before arising to present, first in Vietnamese and then in English, an alternative view of Hayden’s leadership of the antiwar movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

Hayden not only opposed the Vietnam War as wrongheaded – a position shared by millions of Americans – but, with his then-wife, actress Jane Fonda, openly supported a military victory by communist North Vietnam as it tried to take over South Vietnam.

Famously – or infamously – Fonda went to North Vietnam and posed for a photo at the controls of an anti-aircraft gun.

“Mr. Hayden sided with a communist government that enslaved and/or killed millions of Vietnamese, including members of my own family. Mr. Hayden’s actions are viewed by many as harmful to democratic values and hateful towards those who sought the very freedoms on which this nation is founded,” Nguyen said in Vietnamese.

After delivering her brief remarks in Vietnamese, Nguyen began to repeat them in English, but after only a few words, Sen. Bill Monning, a friend of Hayden’s, interrupted her and Sen. Ricardo Lara, who was presiding, told her to stop talking. When she refused, Lara told the sergeant-at-arms to “please remove Senator Nguyen from the chamber. Have her removed immediately, sergeants, please remove Senator Nguyen. She is out of order.”

It was a dumb move, given that speeches criticizing political figures are common features of Senate sessions. Democrats have devoted much time recently to lambasting President Donald Trump, for example.

The message to the public is that it’s okay for Democrats to criticize Republicans, but turnabout will not be tolerated – an abridgment not only of common sense but of simple fairness.

It also has another indirect aspect – underscoring that when Nguyen and others fled to California four decades ago, they were not exactly met with open arms.

While Democratic politicians today decry Trump’s opposition to accepting more refugees from Syria, their predecessors, and sometimes the same figures, were opposed to accepting those who sought asylum four decades ago.

Jerry Brown, California’s governor at the time, was quite pointed in his criticism.

“There is something a little strange about saying, ‘Let’s bring in 500,000 more people when we can’t take care of the one million (Californians) out of work,’ ” he said in 1975. He even tried to block refugee flights into Travis Air Force Base.

Governor again, Brown now lauds admitting refugees from Syria, saying at one point that he would “work closely” with former President Barack Obama “so that he can both uphold America’s traditional role as a place of asylum, but also ensure that anyone seeking refuge in America is fully vetted.”

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