Dan Morain

Tom Hayden casts a final vote

Tom Hayden meets with Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León in May.
Tom Hayden meets with Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León in May. Courtesy of the California Senate

Tom Hayden was annoyed and short of time the last time we saw one another, over breakfast in May.

He required a wheelchair but pushed it off to the side, disdainfully. His body was failing, the result of a stroke which he attributed, maybe only half in jest, to fracking chemicals he might have come into contact with in Kern County.

But his mind was sharp, and he recalled the day Donald Trump called him a patriot. It was at a luncheon hosted by Trump in 1995 for Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in Manhattan. Adams joked to Hayden that New Yorkers of a certain type were attracted to “the whiff of gunpowder.” It was before Trump saw the value in ranting about terrorists slipping across our borders.

Mostly Hayden was focused on legislation to combat the existential threat of climate change. He was in town to lobby on behalf of the globe, and he needed to get over to the Capitol to see Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, to ask if there was anything he could do to help.

Baby boomers know of Hayden’s student activism, his time as a freedom rider, his anti-Vietnam War activism, his marriage to Jane Fonda, his visits to Hanoi, and his status as one of the main instigators of the protests that led to the police riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

I knew him during the final half of his 18 years in the Legislature, when he worked on the inside to bring about change. Hayden, who died Sunday, didn’t always win, and change didn’t come about as rapidly as he wanted. Hayden never became an insider. It wasn’t in his makeup. But he became a surprisingly effective legislator, even if his victories weren’t readily apparent.

In his early years, Hayden’s existence in Sacramento got under the skin of some Republicans, and a few Democrats. Assemblyman Gil Ferguson, an Orange County Republican and a U.S. Marine who since has died, tried to persuade the Assembly to block Hayden from being seated when Santa Monica voters first sent him to the Assembly in 1982. Later, some of his closest allies were Republicans.

In 1987, then-Speaker Willie Brown stripped Hayden of a committee chairmanship when Hayden tried to block Brown’s appointment of developer Mark L. Nathanson to the California Coastal Commission. Hayden was vindicated in 1993 when Nathanson pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges.

Hayden won a state Senate seat in 1992 by knocking off a veteran and well-liked West L.A. senator, Herschel Rosenthal, despite $203,000 in donations from Democrats trying to protect the incumbent. On the day he was sworn in, I visited Hayden in his Capitol office, and listened as he and his staff chatted about the importance of drinking fair-trade coffee, and the plight of the native peoples of the Amazon. More to the point was a pillow on his couch, embroidered with the words of the wise philosopher Leo “The Lip” Durocher: “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you an idiot.”

Look through Hayden’s bills and you’ll find one from 1993 seeking to require electric-vehicle-charging stations. We’re getting around to that. In 1993, he pushed legislation to require the state to find alternatives to ozone-destroying refrigerants. Earlier this month, more than 170 nations reached agreement to cut their use.

Sometimes, the wins were small, as when he got an earmark to help pay the cost of having gang members get their tattoos erased. Sometimes, they were lasting. In the mid-1990s, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles contemplated razing the 19th-century Cathedral of Saint Vibiana in downtown L.A. Hayden blocked legislation to exempt the project from environmental review. The cathedral still stands.

John Froines, the UCLA chemist and fellow Chicago Seven traveler, recalled their 15 days together in an Illinois jail. Their co-defendants slept. Froines read. And, he noted, “Hayden wrote a book.”

“He was remarkable,” Froines said Monday.

Later, Hayden helped bring about Froines’ appointment to California’s Scientific Review Panel. One of the most important posts you’ve never heard of, the panel reviews the science of pollutants, so the California Air Resources Board and Department of Pesticide Regulation can regulate them.

It was a recurring theme. Hayden was among the main forces behind Proposition 65, the 1986 initiative that requires public warnings about toxins, and Proposition 99, the 1988 initiative that imposed a cigarette tax to fund anti-tobacco efforts.

In August, former staffers gathered at a friend’s home in West L.A., understanding Hayden’s end was near. One of them had promised to return him to the convalescent hospital by 6 p.m.; time was running short.

He wasn’t quite ready to leave. First, he needed two of his friends, Rocky Rushing and Dan Jacobson, to help him write a note to an assemblyman, Jose Medina. He had met Medina earlier in the year, and they spent time talking about the old days, the future, and the importance of Senate Bill 32, which will require 50 percent reductions in greenhouse gases by 2030, understanding he would be long gone by the time the bill’s full implications are realized.

“The note was simply thanking me for voting for SB 32,” Medina said.

In his final days, Hayden would tell visitors about the importance of the presidential election. A few days ago, he filled out his ballot, his final public act. A friend made sure it got into the mail. As ever, Hayden’s vote will count.