Newport Beach Assemblyman Gil Ferguson compares the war he has waged against Tom Hayden to the struggle against apartheid.
“I don’t enjoy doing it, I don’t derive any pleasure from it, but it’s something I have to do,” the Republican lawmaker said with solemnity, comparing the emotional significance of his efforts against Hayden to other legislators’ resolutions condemning Pretoria’s system of racial segregation.
Ferguson made those remarks to a reporter on the last night of the 1987 legislative session, as he savored a small victory in a two-year battle that has brought him notoriety beyond the reaches of his Orange County Assembly district. A former Marine officer, Ferguson has become the Republicans’ most outspoken antagonist of Democrat Tom Hayden, the former anti-war activist who has represented the Westside in the Assembly since 1982.
Ferguson succeeded in having Hayden’s name stricken as principal co-author of a bill that would permit Californians to contribute through their income tax returns to a fund that would pay for the erection of a Capitol Park monument to Vietnam War veterans.
Like the Vietnam War itself, Ferguson’s achievement was, at best, ambiguous.
Democrats refused to single out Hayden for dishonor, so Republicans agreed to pass the bill if all 40 names of co-authors were deleted--including Ferguson’s, a veteran of three wars.
Pulling Hayden’s name along with his own off a largely symbolic bill is a far cry from Ferguson’s ultimate objective: Hayden’s exclusion from public service.
In 1985, less than six months after his election to the Assembly, Ferguson called Hayden a traitor for his trips to Hanoi 20 years ago during the height of the Vietnam War. Last summer, Ferguson unsuccessfully sought to have the Assembly declare Hayden’s 44th District seat vacant, which would have effectively expelled the Santa Monica Democrat from the chamber.
Although less was at stake than in last year’s debate over Hayden’s membership in the Assembly, the rhetorical battle over what once was a non-controversial bill was nearly as intense.
The bill, authored by Assemblyman Thomas M. Hannigan (D-Fairfield), had sailed through the lower house by a 59-10 vote on July 15. When it reached the Senate on Sept. 10, however, Republicans decided that Hayden’s name on the bill was objectionable and introduced an amendment to delete it.
Sen. Don Rogers (R-Bakersfield) told his colleagues that the measure would be “a better bill” with Hayden’s name removed. The upper house did not agree, however, and by a 27-6 vote sent the bill back to the Assembly for final consideration the next day.
It was then that the 64-year-old Ferguson made his plea to excise Hayden. Insisting that the presence of the former war protester’s name on the bill would bring “dishonor” to the planned memorial, the teary-eyed Ferguson recalled the Senate’s refusal to delete his colleague’s name from the measure.
“They’re not going to do the job for you,” he told the Assembly. “So you’re going to have to do it.”
Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd (D-Hawthorne), an advocate of veterans’ interests, quickly ridiculed Ferguson’s appeals for “honor” and “patriotism.”
Ferguson “is sick, sick, sick, sick,” Floyd said. He declared that Hayden “ain’t my best friend” but defended the Westside assemblyman’s voting record on veterans issues.
Among the Legislature’s more colorful orators, Floyd told Ferguson to do more than just jump in a lake: “We don’t need the . . . superpatriots to stand up here and tell us that we got to clean the dirt from our own house. Clean the dirt from our house, Mr. Ferguson, by going back and drowning yourself in Newport Harbor!”
Hayden, 47, who had called Ferguson a “narrow-minded bigot” during last year’s debate, was more restrained in his remarks.
He said he had opposed the war “out of an honest rage,” but that “my opposition to the war was not an opposition to the men who served.”
The bill’s author, Hannigan, himself a former Marine, said it was the only time in his recollection that an Assembly debate centered on a measure’s author rather than its content.
Noting that private efforts to collect money for the monument were far behind their goal of $2 million, Hannigan said the memorial would be in jeopardy without his bill. “It’s not a fund-raising effort that has been particularly successful,” he said.
Nonetheless, on a partisan vote of 43-23, the 80-seat Assembly declined to grant the two-thirds majority needed to pass the bill.
Hayden had offered to downgrade his listing from “principal co-author” to simply “co-author,” but was rebuffed by Republicans. Both parties, however, accepted the compromise offered by Assemblyman Tim Leslie (R-Carmichael) in which all 40 names of co-authors were removed from the bill. The bill then passed the Assembly 73-3 and the Senate 28-2.
“I prefer to view (the compromise) as a situation where everybody wins,” Hayden said later. “I’m trying to view it as a cease-fire in the Capitol wars so we can do something for the veterans.”
Ferguson said he was equally pleased. “That’s all we ever wanted to achieve. We’ll get the memorial without bringing dishonor to it,” he said.
Although he has accused Hayden of treason, Ferguson took pains to note that “I don’t even oppose all of his bills. I’ve even voted for some of his education bills.”
When told of Ferguson’s remarks, Hayden sought to be conciliatory by saying that he too had voted for some of Ferguson’s bills. Hayden corrected himself, however, when he could not recall any bills Ferguson had introduced, except one to “shut down the Coastal Commission or something.”
“He really has a very limited agenda,” Hayden said, reflecting on the man who has made Hayden’s ouster his most notable legislative effort. “He’s really against everything we stand for: women, minorities, the environment.”
Ferguson has emphasized his antagonism for Hayden when seeking campaign contributions from right-wing groups, including some veterans organizations. In an interview last year with the California Journal, Ferguson said he sought to prevent the state from becoming “one Santa Monica-Berkeley” by electing more Republican officeholders.
During the 1986 elections, Ferguson formed a political action committee named the Oust Tom Hayden PAC that contributed to Republican candidate Gloria J. Stout’s campaign against the incumbent. Hayden won that race with 59% of the vote.
Hayden predicted that the regular attacks against him will cease. “I think it’s a dying ember,” he said. “The majority of the public and most members of the Legislature agree that the voters of your Assembly district are entitled to choose their own representative.”
Ironically, Ferguson may have gotten the idea of using bill authorship as a political tool from Democrats. Last year, some Democrats refused to support a bill to limit noise from the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa as long as Ferguson was listed as author.
Ferguson had insulted a venerable Sacramento lobbyist, James D. Garibaldi, 79, calling him “an old man whose . . . time is past due.” As a result, Ferguson said last year, Democrats punished him by refusing to vote for his bill as long as he was identified with it. The name of then-Assemblywoman Jean M. Duffy (D-Citrus Heights) was inserted in Ferguson’s place.