In a fall election campaign where Democratic incumbents are heavy favorites to win reelection to every Westside legislative seat, only one lawmaker has drawn heavy fire--Assemblyman Tom Hayden.
The barrage against the Santa Monica Democrat has come not from his under-financed Republican challenger in the Assembly race, but from some of the state's biggest industries. They are determined to stop the sweeping environmental protection initiative dubbed "Big Green," which Hayden helped draft.
In an expensive statewide media campaign, opponents of Proposition 128 have branded the measure "the Hayden initiative." And they have sought to defeat it by repeatedly reminding voters of Hayden's radical past and suggesting he will seek the new office of environmental advocate if the proposition passes.
Hayden concedes the radio advertising blitz that began during the summer has hurt the measure's standing in public opinion polls. The latest Times Poll, for instance, found voters evenly split on the initiative.
Although not ruling out running for environmental czar, Hayden says he has no long-term plans, pending the outcome of the Nov. 6 election.
"The plan is to get reelected in 1990 and then make a personal assessment of what I want to do with the rest of my life," he said in a recent interview. "I'm 50 years old. To continue a political career is an option, not the only one. I resist efforts to try to draw a conclusion now."
Hayden is confident enough of victory in his bid for a fifth term representing the heavily Democratic 44th Assembly District that he is devoting most of his efforts to winning passage of Proposition 128. He is actively involved in raising money for the measure, charting campaign strategy and overseeing final production of television advertisements for it.
The measure would ban cancer-causing chemicals in food, would reduce emissions that damage the ozone layer and contribute to global warming, would preserve old-growth redwood forests, and would impose new taxes on oil companies to pay for oil spill prevention and cleanup.
The ads opposing the initiative, financed mainly by oil and chemical companies, criticize the measure as too costly and promising too much.
The proposition sharply divides Hayden and Republican challenger Fred Beteta, a member of the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees for 15 years.
Beteta opposes Proposition 128 and echoes the belief that Hayden is trying to set "himself up as environmental czar."
Echoing the theme of previous anti-Hayden campaigns, Beteta argues that the assemblyman's "leftist political machine" is "attempting to choke off free enterprise by regulation."
Beteta, a 60-year-old retired associate engineer for Hughes Aircraft, contends that the measure will cost jobs. Hayden counters that opponents are raising fictitious issues about the initiative's cost and impact.
The two candidates also differ on some other issues.
Hayden took the unusual step during the summer of inserting himself into a hot local issue when he vigorously objected to plans by restaurateur Michael McCarty to build a luxury hotel and community center on a publicly owned parcel of Santa Monica Beach.
Beteta plays down the fight over the hotel, calling it a local matter. But he said he intends to vote for McCarty's project because it has some good features.
Beteta is no stranger to controversy himself.
At a Cinco de Mayo celebration this year at Santa Monica College, Beteta urged organizers to cut short a speech by a part-time instructor of Mexican and Latin American history who was urging the audience to fight oppression. He later argued with the instructor offstage.
"I didn't like the tone or context of his speech," Beteta said after the incident. "I thought it was highly inappropriate. This is a cultural event, a music and dance celebration. I didn't appreciate him turning the celebration into a political rally."
A Chicano student group later demanded a public apology from Beteta. He refused.
Elected to the Santa Monica College board in 1975 as a Democrat, Beteta switched to the GOP eight years ago in a falling out with Hayden allies.
The two have been on a collision course ever since.
Hayden was a staunch opponent of U.S. aid to the Contras, but Beteta, who was born in Nicaragua and came to this country in 1947, was a strong supporter of the armed opposition to the Sandinistas.
Despite the overwhelming odds, Beteta said he is running against Hayden because he wants the voice of what he calls the political center and right to be heard in the liberal district, which hugs the coast from Malibu and Santa Monica to Venice and reaches inland as far as Century City.
Beteta faults Hayden for his attendance record in Sacramento. But the assemblyman attributes the fact that he missed one out of every five votes in the Assembly during the past year to his refusal to participate in the traditional practice of legislators' adding on to missed roll calls at the end of floor sessions.