Democrats’ Redistricting Would Sacrifice Hayden : Politics: Party is forced by census to forfeit an L.A. Assembly seat. Wilson veto could land issue in courts.
Assemblyman Tom Hayden, the liberal one-time anti-war activist who fought off a conservative attempt to expel him from the Legislature, now stands on the verge of losing his seat in a battle with fellow Democrats over the drawing of new district boundaries.
Hayden, who for five terms has straddled the line between outsider and insider, critic of the leadership and legislative player, is learning again what for him is an old lesson: It doesn’t pay to buck the Establishment.
In this case, the Establishment is Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and his allies in the Legislature’s lower house. Forced by demographics to forfeit a Los Angeles seat to the Republicans, they chose Hayden as their sacrificial lamb.
Hayden’s predicament became clear from a set of Democratic-drawn districts jammed through a Senate-Assembly conference committee Tuesday on partisan votes. The remapping, required by the 1990 Census, would eliminate his district, carving it up among his political neighbors. Still, Hayden’s fate is far from sealed.
It is all but certain that Gov. Pete Wilson will veto the plan if it is pushed through the Legislature in its current form. That would throw the entire process of redistricting into the courts, which would become Hayden’s best hope of survival.
But the fact that his Democratic colleagues appear ready to sacrifice Hayden says much about how the political game is played in Sacramento and what happens to those who never quite fit in.
Personalities and relationships can be as important as geography in the politics of redistricting. In the unusual instance when an incumbent must be thrown overboard in a political sense, it is risky to be considered expendable.
In the two plans favored by Brown and adopted Tuesday by a Senate-Assembly conference committee, Hayden’s Santa Monica political base is included in the district represented by Democrat Terry Friedman of Los Angeles. But it would be dwarfed by voters Friedman has represented for six years. Hayden says he will run for reelection. But if he does he will be the underdog.
Hayden, in an interview, said he believes he became Brown’s designated victim in part because he has differed with the Speaker on environmental issues, the use of the initiative process and other matters. In addition, he said Brown probably wanted to keep good relations with the West Los Angeles political organization headed by Rep. Howard Berman, who is leading the congressional line-drawing effort.
“I’m independent and I don’t belong to a machine,” Hayden said. “He (Brown) needs to weld together a coalition of machines, a machine of machines, to try to remain Speaker and keep a plan afloat that possibly the governor will sign.”
Berman denied any involvement and Brown said he was forced to place Hayden in the same district as Friedman by population shifts and the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects the interests of ethnic minorities.
Brown said two Los Angeles County incumbents had to be scrapped to account for population shifts and the need for a new Latino-controlled district in central Los Angeles.
“None of the Voting Rights Act seats can be on the table to supply a candidate for exit,” Brown said. “With that in mind, then you’re down to only the white people.”
To preserve the seats of black Democrats Teresa Hughes, Gwen Moore and Curtis Tucker Jr., Brown said he had to construct districts that would be dominated by blacks. But those seats all come up short of the ideal population for an Assembly district of 372,000, so the line-drawers tapped the white populations of West Los Angeles to pick up the difference.
The result in all likelihood will leave West Los Angeles with two liberal white Democrats while today there are four.
The two incumbents who would emerge with the most secure reelection chances are Barbara Friedman and Terry Friedman, two unrelated liberals who are closely aligned with the Berman political organization. Another Berman ally, Assembly Burt Margolin, would lose his district but is poised to run for Congress in a district drawn by Berman. Hayden is the odd man out.
“There’s a crunch between the Westside . . . political machine and black incumbents,” Hayden said. “Our leadership thought my district was the easiest to pillage.”
Brown said he thought Hayden was given a fair shake, under the circumstances.
“I believe Tom Hayden has the same opportunity to seek election as does Mr. Friedman,” Brown said.
But Hayden and most other objective observers, including Friedman, disagree. For Hayden it is deja vu. He has never felt particularly welcome under the Capitol dome.
When he first ran for the Assembly in 1982, the Democratic leadership poured money into the primary campaign in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat him. A few years later, Republican activist Mickey Conroy, who was expected to be elected to the Assembly in a special election Tuesday, teamed with GOP Assemblyman Gil Ferguson of Newport Beach in an effort on the floor of the Assembly, also failed, to expel Hayden. They claimed that his trips to Hanoi during the Vietnam War amounted to treason.
Ferguson said Tuesday that it makes sense for the Democratic leadership to dump Hayden because his liberal philosophy is an “embarrassment” to them and he has the ability to wage political campaigns independent of the Democratic Establishment.
Hayden and his grass-roots political committee, Campaign California, were instrumental in the passage of Proposition 65, the anti-toxic initiative, and the failed environmental measure known as “Big Green.” Hayden also helped win passage of Proposition 99, which increased tobacco taxes, and he supported a moderate term-limits measure on the 1990 ballot.
“He is a constant source of irritation to the other Democrats,” Ferguson said. “Brown would like to think he is the leader of the party. When it comes to the environment or toxics, he doesn’t want to have some back-bencher with millions of dollars and a lot of followers take away that leadership from him.”
Already, Hayden is seeking to turn his misfortune into a political advantage. He described the move as an attack on those concerned about the environment and a victory for “the developers and the polluters.” No longer would the reshaped district that includes Santa Monica also have parts of the coast to the north and south.
“The strong coastal advocates have been reduced to the Santa Monica pier,” Hayden said.
Hayden hinted Tuesday that he will use his feud with the Democratic leadership to prove that he is still something of a rebel.
“They are saying ‘You’re on your own’ and frankly I like it that way,” Hayden said. “It’s me against the system. This is where I came in.”