State senator ordered off floor

State Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Garden Grove. (Photo: Screen capture, California Channel)

In a remarkable confrontation, a Republican state senator of Vietnamese descent was hustled off the Senate floor Thursday, after majority Democrats said she was out of order for trying to make disparaging comments about the late political activist Tom Hayden.

The leader of the Senate Republicans immediately demanded an investigation by the Rules Committee, saying she feared retribution against Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Garden Grove.

A video of the event from the California Channel can be seen here. The incident starts at about 32:50.

The incident began when Nguyen rose to her microphone to address the floor. She first spoke in Vietnamese, then began to speak about the “hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees who died seeking freedom and democracy.” She said she wanted to offer “a historical perspective about Hayden,” when she was cut off by the presiding officer, a Democrat.

Hayden, a former state Senator from Santa Monica and co-founder of the Students for a Democratic Society, was known best for his opposition to the Vietnam war in the 1960s and 1970s. Hayden, a Democrat, had been honored on the Senate floor two days earlier.

Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, the presiding officer, told Nguyen repeatedly that she was out of order. As she spoke, her microphone was turned off. After several minutes, during which she ignored Lara and continued to speak, Lara ordered the sergeants-at-arms to escort Nguyen off the floor.

Nguyen – like some others in Orange County’s Vietnamese community that she represents — is strongly pro-American and pro-military, and she has been sharply critical of Hayden and other critics of American involvement in the war.

A video of the event from the California Channel can be seen here. The incident starts at about 32:50.

Minority Leader Jean Fuller of Bakersfield said in an email that “Senator Nguyen should have been allowed to express the viewpoints of her constituents. Instead she was suppressed and physically removed from the floor.”

Fuller complained that the “deliberate action to silence a member’s freedom of speech is un-American,” and noted that some Democrats also complained about the action.

Senate Leader Kevin De León said later in a written statement that the removal of a senator should be “an absolute last resort,” but that Nguyen had been ruled out of order because she failed to follow Senate procedures before speaking.

“To be very clear, every Senator has the right to speak for their constituents, including Senator Nguyen, a Vietnamese refugee who represents an incredibly diverse community. At the same time, to maintain order so every Senator can be heard, we all observe a clear set of parliamentary rules, which were explained beforehand to Senator Nguyen and her staff who asked to speak on a specific issue,” De León said.

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: