Los Angeles Times Interview / The Governor's Race : Tom Hayden : The Longtime Activist Now Champions Political Reform

Amy Wallace is a Metro reporter for The Times

Say what you want about Tom Hayden. The 54-year-old state senator from Santa Monica still plays hardball.

Since February, when Hayden surprised the pundits by jumping into the California governor's race, the veteran of many movements has built his campaign around yet another one: the corruption of the political process. Lamenting what he calls the "unfulfilled agenda of the '60s," Hayden seeks to spotlight the power of lobbyists and special interests. And when The Times fails to cover his candidacy as voluminously as he wishes, Hayden draws attention to that as well: with a full-page advertisement in the New York Times.

Hayden has never shrunk from controversy. As a college student, he organized Students for Democratic Society. As a freedom rider seeking to desegregate the South, he manned the front lines of the civil-rights movement. From there, he went on to Newark, N.J., as a foot soldier in the war on poverty.

But what most people remember about Hayden is his 16-year marriage to actress Jane Fonda and the couple's opposition to the Vietnam War. Even today, after serving a decade in the state Assembly and two years in the state Senate, Hayden acknowledges many still judge him on this part of his past.

Hayden has remarried, to Canadian actress and singer Barbara Williams, and one morning recently the couple welcomed a reporter into their sunny kitchen. Williams fiddled with a video camera as Hayden sipped coffee and considered the many labels applied to him over the years--including brilliant reformer, washed-up rebel, liberal philosopher and egotistical publicity hound.

But a discussion of Hayden's favorite sport--baseball--provided perhaps the best glimpse into the would-be governor's combative soul. Yes, he confirmed, his campaign is arranged around his weekend commitment to his "Over 30" baseball league. He never misses practice, he said, because: "If you stop playing baseball, hardball, then it's all downhill. Next comes softball, then comes bowling, then comes golf, then comes death. It's a straight line . . . . I've gone back to (hardball) to avoid the progression."

Question: In a race for governor, labels can be powerful. And you are somebody who has a lot of labels associated with him. How do you see yourself?

Answer: I see myself as an inkblot in terms of all those labels. I'm an inkblot for the '60s and for a lot of other things. So people will see in me what they want to see.

Q: What do they see?

A: They see three things: . . . '60s radical, Jane Fonda and politician-legislator or fighter for causes in Sacramento. Those are the three things. And my life comes down to that, as interpreted through the media to the public.

Q: And is that accurate?

A: Well, I'm not whining. I try to learn from it . . . . It's accurate, if you think of it this way: Did you ever read the book "Siddhartha," by Herman Hesse? There are these stages of life that this person goes through . . . .

First, he breaks with his father's world and, in searching for the meaning of life, goes into the forest and leads a very simple and radical life as a monk. He practices a lot of self-denial. That was the way I was in the civil-rights movement, or in Newark or in the '60s.

He doesn't reject this but he changes and kind of joins the system. He meets this woman. They get married, they have a child. He becomes kind of a counselor in the kingdom of the time--I don't believe they had elected officials, so you could call him a politician or an advocate of some kind. But he was in the system. And he doesn't find the meaning that he's looking for there, either.

At the end of the book, he's become a ferryman helping people cross a river . . . . The other side is enlightenment. He's trying to help people get there, but he himself doesn't get there. His job is to try to take people across and go back and pick up more people. Because the point is that you don't achieve your own enlightenment while others are denied.

Q: Are you a ferryman?

A: Being a legislator isn't quite being a ferryman. I feel more like a ferryman running for governor--in the sense that I'm trying to draw people into a clearer picture of how Sacramento has become far from a city of sacraments and more like Babylon. And (to show them) how it works, so that they might be more enlightened themselves about the nature of why government fails them.

Q: Why are you running for governor? To be an educator?

A: Being a governor is not just being a teacher . . . . (But) without a change of consciousness . . . nothing will change. Now that does mean campaign reform and limitations on lobbyists and all the rest of it, but, first and foremost, it means that people need education, they need an altered picture of what's wrong in Sacramento and that they're part of this whole disintegration I'm talking about . . . . (Without me) in this campaign, you will not hear the seven-letter word renter , even though 50% or more of the people in California are renters . . . . You will rarely if ever hear the word environment . Because environmentalists don't give big contributions in Sacramento.

Third, you will never hear (about) children. You will see them on TV spots, when candidates think they have to look human. But children are really suffering in this state from poverty and underfunding in schools . . . .

We need an education-based economic strategy. We need to see cultural diversity as an economic asset and we need to (achieve) economic growth through restoration of the environment. What's blocking acceptance of those three ideas is that we are trapped in past thinking . . . . Lincoln was right when he said, "Without vision, people perish.". . . People need to be engaged in a discussion about a positive vision and how to carry it out . . . .

Q: Do you think the majority of people have a real burning desire to be involved along those lines?

A: There is no desire to go to a lot of meetings. . . . But with the technology of the information highway that we have, people could be rather easily hooked up in their communities to greater information. An example is, I've got a bill that tries to implement the political-reform act that was passed 20 years ago, that said people have a right to know about the campaign contributions politicians receive. . . . My bill would allow at least those people who have a computer and a modem to hook up in their home and . . . find out whether the tobacco industry gave $50,000 to (Speaker) Willie Brown or not . . . .

I'm not talking about mandatory participatory democracy. But I am saying people are being manipulated, their tax dollars are being ripped off and they're being lied to and they deserve to have access to information so they can decide if they want to be politically active or not.

Q: If people think of you as " '60s radical" or "Jane Fonda's ex-husband," has that cost you politically?

A: Well, I would like more of my life to be known. Wouldn't we all? . . . (But) if they see me this way, it is because we're all looking for the balance between self-denial and self-aggrandizement, between the part of us that is instinctively outside and looking for a new vision of a way to live and the part of us that wants to make a living and acquire things and protect our children and get by, without hassle. So maybe this stereotype of me actually is about that . . . .

People come up to me and they react to these two things. They don't say, necessarily, "Jane" or " '60s," but they say things that can be categorized that way, as if they want to know how I put it together, or how I am now, because it might help them figure out where they are between these two poles of their own personality . . . .

So it may be that the inkblot point is of some value. Now does it help me in politics? I don't know.

Q: Do you think those parts of your past have kept you from being elected to statewide office?

A: No. If I haven't been able to be elected to statewide office, it's my own limitation. I'm too opinionated or radical for my time. . . . I hope I don't sound like a complainer here--because I'm not at all. I feel very blessed by life. But people repeatedly say to me after they've talked to me or heard me speak that they have a better impression of me than the impression they were given . . . . It's always, "You're not the person we thought you were." Or: "You make a lot more sense than we thought you did." . . . So I do think that there must be a heavy negative out there, but what's positive to me is that it lifts rather easily when I talk to people . . . .

Q: Explain where you stand on the death penalty.

A: Morally muddled. Because I have this side of me that (says), . . . "If somebody killed one of my children or my wife, I would at least want the option of the death penalty." . . . Am I proud of that feeling in me? Not necessarily . . . . Do I reject that part of me? No. I think that it's an authentic Old Testament feeling.

On the other side, I think the arguments against the death penalty are stronger arguments. Particularly the argument that it's an irreversible act, and there may be a remote possibility that you'll be proven wrong by later evidence.

Q: So where does that leave you?

A: If you're looking for somebody that would view the death penalty as a serious weapon against violent crime, you should probably look for another candidate for governor. Because I see it as a tool that is used in campaigns to promote a false symbol of macho strength. And it's used more by politicians against each other than any other way. If the case was before me, I would try to render as objective and merciful and fair a decision as possible . . . .

I don't know what I would do. I don't absolutely, under all circumstances, rule out allowing the sentence to be carried forward. That's where some of my liberal friends have trouble with me . . . .

Q: You have been a crusader for various causes throughout your life. Do you feel like you have fulfilled your promise? Is running for governor the best use of your time?

A: How do you say no? I feel that I'm on a path that is leading somewhere in terms of my own personal development and my own growth, still. So, have I fulfilled the potential that I might in personal terms? No. Not yet. And I've certainly lost my way more than once . . . . But as far as the promise of the '60s, . . . the '60s are not over. Because I think they began, and I didn't know this at the time, but they began an alternative politics based on spirituality and values . . . . (And) if you don't engage in the spiritual dimension or value dimension of politics, then you're reinforcing the idea that politics is nothing but a machine for acquiring power in distributing goods to whoever bangs on the door the heaviest and uses threats most successfully--or contributions.

Q. After June 7, what happens?

A. Whether I win or lose, I'm going to the Black Hills for a week with my wife and her father on a long-awaited journey. If I win, I'll be right back, completely charged up and ready to go. If I don't win the primary, I'll go back to the Senate and wrastle with the budget.

And I will try to keep some focus on the need to reform in the governor's race . . . . There's a large block of voters who are deeply, deeply disappointed and feel betrayed by the non-positions of the other Democratic candidates. And I think there is a danger that Pete Wilson will be reelected, because so many people will sit on their hands unless the Democratic nominee starts talking about something that distinguishes them . . . .

My great concern is that the special-interest system of politics and funding campaigns has now created a situation where all candidates think too much alike because of the company they keep and the circles they're in and the way they raise their money . . . . I'll be trying to advise Democrats to emphasize issues like the destruction of higher education and the underfunding of schools and environmental devastation . . . .

Q: Will you urge the people who supported you to support the nominee?

A: Right . . . But I'm trying to win. . . . I'm busy trying to campaign through to June 7. . . . I'm looking at this as a very live process right now. *

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