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

May 22, 1994|Amy Wallace | 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?

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