SACRAMENTO — Likening it to a soldier's duty in battle, Orange County Assemblyman Gil Ferguson was gearing up for his long-promised effort to oust Assemblyman Tom Hayden from the Legislature for supposedly traitorous conduct during the long-ended U. S. military conflict in Vietnam.
"It is like having to land in the morning at 0:500," said Ferguson, a freshman assemblyman from Newport Beach. "You wish you didn't have to do it. But you can't go over the hill."
Ferguson informed legislative leaders this week that he will submit a motion on Monday saying Hayden (D-Santa Monica) is unqualified under the state Constitution to hold public office.
The vote on the motion, should it occur, is likely to split the Assembly along party lines.
Partisan Support Predicted
Republican Assembly members, who discussed the issue during a closed-door caucus Thursday, predicted that all who attend Monday's session will support Ferguson's motion. Democratic legislators, who enjoy a 47-33 edge, said they had not yet held a caucus on the move. But earlier this week, Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco declared:
"I will protect Tom Hayden. Period. I will support Tom Hayden's right to be a member of this house."
Ferguson, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who fought in three U. S. conflicts, has vowed to force the first-ever vote on Hayden's qualifications to hold public office since his first Assembly floor speech more than a year ago.
In that teary-eyed address, during debate on a resolution honoring Vietnam veterans, Ferguson called Hayden a "traitor." He told the two-term Democratic assemblyman from Santa Monica that patriotic Americans would never forgive him, not even "when you are dead and buried in your grave."
Hayden, 46, the soft-spoken husband of actress Jane Fonda, was an outspoken opponent of U. S. involvement in Vietnam who traveled to Southeast Asia four times during the 1960s and 1970s. Anti-war statements he made during trips to Hanoi, critical of U. S. foreign policy and President Lyndon B. Johnson, were broadcast over government-sponsored radio stations.
That, said Ferguson and leaders of several veterans groups, makes him unqualified for office under a provision of the state Constitution that prohibits a person who "advocates the support of a foreign government" during "hostilities" from holding public office.
Charges Called 'Utterly False'
Hayden said Ferguson's charge is "utterly false" and his interpretation of the Constitution is flawed. He said also he suspects the election-year move "is 100% political."
Ferguson and veterans leaders acknowledge that they want to force a recorded vote on Hayden's qualifications so that legislators who support him will have to answer to voters back home.
"I don't have a poll on it," countered Hayden, "but I believe that the vast majority of Californians believe they are entitled to the representative they have chosen in a free election." Hayden has twice been comfortably elected from the 44th District, which includes Santa Monica and part of western Los Angeles, and he polled 77% in the recent primary.
Ferguson is timing his motion to coincide with the annual state convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Several busloads of veterans attending the meeting at a nearby hotel are coming to the Capitol for an outdoor rally Monday morning. Some have reportedly obtained floor passes and will be in the Assembly chamber during Ferguson's motion.
VFW officials say veterans representatives have met with all 79 of Hayden's colleagues and have obtained some commitments. A petition drive spearheaded by Mickey Conroy, president of the Santa Ana-based California War Veterans for Justice, has reportedly gathered 258,000 petitions demanding Hayden's ouster.
But on Ferguson's advice, the veterans have not yet presented those petitions to legislators because they fear a repeat of their effort several years ago when petitions were referred to the Assembly Elections Committee and no vote was ever taken.
Television Coverage Anticipated
Brown said Wednesday he would "follow the rules scrupulously" in dealing with Hayden's motion. His press secretary, Susan Jetton, said Thursday Brown "has not at this point made any plans," but his office had started trying to decide "where all the TV cameras are going to be."
Democratic sources said, however, that options under consideration include:
- Ruling Ferguson's motion out of order.
- Introducing a similar motion to expel Ferguson.
- Allowing discussion, but no vote.
- Debating the issue, then voting it down.
VFW representatives have armed all 80 legislators with a bound package of material that includes transcripts of Hayden's Hanoi radio broadcasts and his testimony before Congressional committees.
Hayden has sent his colleagues a package that compares his voting record on veterans issues to Ferguson's. Hayden's package also includes copies of cables, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, in which then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk and other State Department officials suggest that Hayden be commended for his role in obtaining the release of three war prisoners in 1967.
"I have no comment on what is going to happen Monday other than I expect to be here Tuesday," said Hayden.
A Republican legislator, who asked not to be identified, agreed as to the outcome. "I think every Democrat will stand up behind Willie and every Republican will line up behind (GOP Leader Pat) Nolan (of Glendale).
Times staff writer Stephanie O'Neill contributed to this story.