In February, California senator Janet Nguyen (R-Santa Ana), the country’s first Vietnamese-American state legislator, whose district includes more than 100,000 people of Vietnamese descent, was removed from the Senate chamber after objecting to the lionization of deceased former state assemblyman and senator Tom Hayden, a communist collaborator during the Vietnam War. Nguyen was born in Saigon a year before the city fell to the North Vietnamese forces in 1975 and legally immigrated to the United States with her family four years later, settling in southern California.
When the posthumous lionization began of Hayden’s service of almost two decades in California state government, Nguyen was distressed. She knew Hayden as someone who had aided and given comfort to the communist enemy in her country of origin. She felt compelled to express the sentiments of her heavily refugee-populated district, whose families had suffered greatly because of North Vietnamese brutality. The community blames the U.S. anti-war movement for undermining the war effort and contributing to the eventual victory of the North Vietnamese communists.
During the Vietnam War in the 1960s, Hayden, a prominent and vocal voice for the North Vietnamese communists, had organized a campaign with Jane Fonda, John Kerry, and Ted Kennedy to cut off American aid to the existing government of South Vietnam and cooperate with the Vietcong and Khmer Rouge. Hayden traveled to southeast Asia numerous times during the conflict to strategize with the enemy on defeating America’s anti-communist plan. When reports came to light that American soldiers were being tortured in communist captivity, he proclaimed the reports to be “propaganda.” Hayden and Fonda notoriously weakened the morale of American POWs by participating in broadcasts for the North Vietnamese in which they accused American troops of war crimes.
After Hayden’s passing October 23, 2016, the California Senate held a ceremony five months later on February 20, 2017, honoring his service to the state legislature. California Democratic Party chairman John Burton praised the former senator as “one of the great visionaries” and as “a guy with a lot of courage.” President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) crowed, “He dedicated his life to the betterment of our state and our great country through the pursuit of peace, justice and equity.” Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) applauded Hayden for his street activism against the Vietnamese war.
These undue accolades proved to be too much for Nguyen, who is aware of the truth regarding Hayden’s anti-war pursuits. She left the chamber and, later, unsuccessfully attempted to gain approval to recess the session later in the week in remembrance of the one million Vietnamese who died because of the war and to speak about Hayden’s actions in Vietnam.
Although refused permission, Nguyen returned to the Senate four days later and gave her statement anyway, speaking first in Vietnamese and then English.
“Mr. Hayden sided with a communist government that enslaved and/or killed millions of Vietnamese, including members of my own family,” she said. “Mr. Hayden’s actions are viewed by many as harmful to democratic values and hateful toward those who sought the very freedoms on which this nation is founded.”
Regretfully, Senator Nguyen didn’t get far with her statement, as she was chastised for being out of order, had her microphone cut off, and was ultimately removed from the California Senate floor. The following weekend, over 100 local Vietnamese Americans, who felt that the memory of their lost loved ones and the brutal assault on their country had been disrespected, attended a rally in support of the senator and her right to speak out against Hayden’s actions.
A week later, recognizing the public relations implications of dragging a Vietnam war refugee from the state Senate floor, de Leon attempted an apology that essentially excused Nguyen’s removal for violating chamber rules by citing the timing of her remarks. However, this response appeared disingenuous, given that Nguyen was denied permission to speak and, instead, told to either post her comments online or provide them following adjournment, an apparent violation of Senate rules.
In May, once again, Nguyen was forced to act on her anti-communist beliefs when Assembly Bill 22 was introduced by California assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-San Francisco). The legislation amended an existing statute for removing a public employee who “is knowingly a member of the Communist party” or member of an organization that “advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of any state by force or violence.” Essentially, the bill would allow communists to work legally in California government. On May 10, the bill passed the Assembly and was headed for a Senate vote.
Constituents from Nguyen’s district, often referred to as “Little Saigon,” were up in arms about A.B. 22. Many had lived under communist oppression and strongly protested the measure. With district support, Nguyen promptly launched a petition to oppose the legislation. Plans were readied in the local Vietnamese-American community to send protesters to Sacramento.
Claiming that his bill didn’t “endorse communism or encourage communism,” Bonta maintained that he was protecting “people’s rights” and following constitutional precedents that made it illegal for government to fire employees due to their political affiliations, a claim that rang hollow for Nguyen’s constituents.
For now, it appears that Sen. Nguyen’s efforts and those of the community she represents succeeded in thwarting plans to allow those espousing communist ideologies to work in California government. On May 18, Bonta announced withdrawal of the bill and apologized to veterans and those who fled the communist regime in Vietnam. Nguyen must be commended for her valiant quest to stand up in the face of acclaim for a traitorous communist collaborator and for her actions to stop legislation that would have normalized communist ideology in the Golden State.