Assemblyman Tom Hayden announced Wednesday that he has accepted the chairmanship of a new Assembly Higher Education Committee, a development that came amid reports that Assembly Speaker Willie Brown was being pressured to strip him of his chairmanship of another committee.
For the past two years, Hayden has chaired the Assembly’s Labor and Employment Committee. But according to several legislative sources, Brown was being urged to take that chairmanship away from him as punishment for a variety of supposed political sins.
By accepting the chairmanship of the new education panel, Hayden automatically will step aside from his labor committee post because Assembly rules do not allow members to chair two permanent committees.
Michael Reese, Brown’s press secretary, would not comment on whether the switch in chairmanships by Hayden was official.
He said the speaker “is under a lot of pressure from many sources . . . when it comes to committee assignments.” But he declined to comment about specific assignments or to discuss Hayden’s situation.
Brown is expected to announce the new makeup of committees early next month, when the Legislature returns to the Capitol.
Sources, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said some of Hayden’s colleagues wanted him stripped of the labor committee chairmanship because of his support of one of the term-limitation measures that appeared on November’s ballot, as well as his championing of “Big Green,” the sweeping environmental initiative that voters rejected last month. The lawmakers upset with Hayden allege that his focus on Big Green caused him to neglect many of his Assembly duties.
Hayden said Wednesday he did not know who was complaining about him, but he acknowledged, “It was necessary to put an enormous amount of time into Big Green. . . . That may have ruffled some feathers. I suppose it did. There were a lot of legislators opposed to it.”
Before Hayden made his announcement Wednesday, one Assembly Democratic staff member said that removing Hayden from the labor panel, a post he has held for the past two years, would “send Hayden a signal” that the party’s legislative leadership is displeased with him.
Legislative sources said that in discussions about stripping Hayden of the labor committee chairmanship, the prospect had been broached that the blow would be softened if Brown elevated Hayden’s subcommittee on higher education to full committee status and named Hayden as chairman. The subcommittee has focused on overhauling the state master plan for higher education.
Hayden said Wednesday he has had several conversations with Brown over the last week. “The final outcome is that I’ve accepted his proposal that I chair a new policy committee on higher education. The first in the Assembly’s history, I believe.”
Hayden said he first urged Brown to turn the subcommittee into a full policy committee three years ago. When he ws offered the chairmanship, he said, “I couldn’t turn it down.”
Legislative sources reported that a leading candidate to replace Hayden as chairman of the labor committee is another Westside Democrat--Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman of Los Angeles.
The labor panel handles a variety of legislation on issues ranging from occupational safety in the workplace to job discrimination.
Because of its importance to organized labor, the chairmanship is also regarded as a way to attract large campaign contributions from unions. A new higher education panel, in contrast, would not be expected to be a major source of fund raising.
Discussing the apparent chairmanship switch by Hayden, one lawmaker said: “Hayden moves from a major committee to a nothing committee.”
Rumors about Hayden losing the Labor Committee chairmanship for punitive reasons surfaced last weekend when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Hayden might lose the post because he antagonized Brown, a San Francisco Democrat, by endorsing Proposition 131, one of two term-limitation measures on November’s ballot.
Proposition 131 was defeated. But a more stringent measure that Hayden joined in opposing--Proposition 140--passed. The latter measure’s provisions include limiting Assembly members to six years in office.
Brown and most Democratic lawmakers strongly opposed both Proposition 131 and Proposition 140. The Chronicle quoted one source as saying Hayden also suffered in Brown’s eyes because he “wasn’t part of the program” of strong opposition to Proposition 140.
Bill Schulz, a Hayden spokesman, said Hayden was not active in either the campaign for Proposition 131 or against 140.
Assemblyman Jim Costa of Fresno, the chairman of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, said Hayden’s position on the ballot measures “could have some impact” on whether he retains his Labor Committee chairmanship. But Costa added that he has not been among those seeking Hayden’s ouster as head of the panel.
Schulz disputed suggestions that Hayden neglected his duties while working on behalf of the Big Green initiative. “He never missed a single vote in Sacramento where his vote made a difference,” Schulz said.
One specific complaint against Hayden is that the Democratic leadership had to summon him back to Sacramento from Los Angeles last July to vote on the state budget after a prolonged stalemate on the spending plan between the Legislature and Gov. Deukmejian.
Schulz said that Brown knew Hayden was in Los Angeles and his absence “didn’t hold anything up.”
Hayden was one of several lawmakers who had to return to Sacramento for the vote, and still others were prepared to fly back from overseas vacations, if necessary.