Tom Hayden, who is now the Carey McWilliams fellow at The Nation, has weighed in on one of California’s hottest Assembly races just before the June 5 primary. Unfortunately, Hayden’s column is nothing more than a machine hatchet job which is both a disservice to California voters and the journalistic legacy of Mr. McWilliams.

Hayden opens his column by praising first-time candidate Torie Osborn (including a link to her campaign, a courtesy he does not extend to the other candidates mentioned), who was an aide to Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa and is the former girlfriend of termed-out Sheila Kuehl who represented much of the area for 14 years in the Assembly and Senate. Once anointed by the Kuehl-L.A. machine, Osborn and her supporters like Hayden have expressed an unseemly peevishness over those who question the wisdom of their choice.

Osborn tries to spin herself as a grassroots champion citing a number of local Democratic groups’ endorsements, but these endorsements often were bought or involved irregularities which caused one local commentator to ask “where are Torie Osborn’s ethics.” In addition, Democratic Party Vice-Chair Eric Bauman (who has not endorsed a candidate) finds Osborn’s spin as the grassroots champion to be “laughable” since Kuehl is the “ultimate insider” and Osborn’s camp is full of insiders. Even worse, the well-funded Osborn has buried the district in direct mail pieces, the second of which had the audacity to include a big warning label to ignore attacks against her by the “special interests.”

Ms. Osborn’s opponents include Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, who has strong progressive credentials, and Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, who was so feared by the likes of Anthem Blue Cross, AIG, BP and Philip Morris that they spent an unprecedented amount on a smear campaign to defeat her in the Democratic primary when she first ran and was elected two years ago.

I know both Bloom and Butler well and they are exactly the type of emerging young leaders that The Nation should want to promote. Instead, The Nation has become the platform for Hayden’s hatchet job against these two fine leaders. Hayden follows the Osborn talking point that anyone who disagrees with the machine’s anointed candidate must be a corrupt stooge of “special interests.”

Hayden simply dismisses Bloom as underfunded despite some significant endorsements, but then unleashes on Butler, who under redistricting is the incumbent in the race. Prior to her election in 2010, Butler served in the Clinton administration and was a fundraiser for groups such as the California League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Consumers Attorneys of California. Hayden reduces this to simply being a fundraiser, lamenting that this is “the modern way many young activists work their way up the ladder;” implying a lockstep system where top fundraisers are rewarded with legislative positions.

Elected positions, however, must be earned at the ballot box. That is what distinguishes Bloom and Butler from Osborn, as they have been chosen by voters and not just insiders and have an actual record of accomplishment. Osborn literally tries to gloss over this fact, as her first mailer was a vapid 16-page brochure entitled “Decades of Leadership” that included pretty glossy pictures of iconic historical events and leaders she had no association with.

Hayden also attacks Butler for moving into the new 50th Assembly District, as this is the first election with new districts drawn by the independent redistricting commission, omitting the fact that he used U-Haul for political purposes a few times himself. Other Osborn supporters whine with a sense of entitlement that she was in the race first (before the districts were even drawn), an argument that proved very persuasive for Mike Gravel’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Hayden closes with a smear that Butler is somehow a party stooge since she cannot name a hypothetical situation in which she would vote against party leadership. This point is silly because people join a party because they tend to agree with it and no one has a crystal ball to predict future disagreements. It is like asking someone to comment on future Laker roster changes before they occur.

What Hayden and other “Torieistas” need to recognize is that this seat does not belong to Sheila Kuehl, the L.A. political machine or any single group to give to Ms. Osborn. Instead, the seat belongs to the diverse population that makes up the 50th Assembly District who hopefully can do what The Nation has refused to do and that is see through the distortions and nasty attacks and pick a leader that can move the state forward.

Bennet Kelley can be reached at

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