Dan Walters

Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Berman-Waxman grip on California loosening

Published: Friday, Sep. 28, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

There was a time when an organization – or machine – controlled by Democratic Congressmen Howard Berman and Henry Waxman dominated Los Angeles County politics.

They spawned a stable of congressional, legislative and local government officeholders and wielded influence on state and even national levels. Michael Berman, Howard Berman's brother and a redistricting guru, enhanced that power.

The Berman-Waxman apparatus began to unravel in the 1990s.

One of its progeny, Congressman Mel Levine, lost a badly managed campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1992, and as Los Angeles County's socioeconomic ambiance changed, a Latino-centered labor movement became politically dominant.

A bipartisan gerrymander of congressional districts, in which Michael Berman played a major role, saved his brother's and Waxman's congressional seats after the 2000 census but forced Howard Berman out of his home turf on the west side of Los Angeles and into the San Fernando Valley.

Last year, however, a new set of maps drawn by an independent commission, which had been created by voters over Berman-Waxman opposition, put Berman's three-decade career in Congress in jeopardy by throwing him and Congressman Brad Sherman into the same San Fernando Valley district.

Sherman, who had represented most of the new 30th Congressional District, bested Berman in the "top two" June primary, the two raised millions of dollars for a Nov. 6 showdown and their duel has assumed epic proportions, with the Middle East a major issue for the district's many Jewish voters.

They've gone toe to toe in personal debates, in campaign ads and in seeking endorsements. Berman is clearly the Democratic establishment's favorite, enjoying endorsements from virtually every top party figure. But Sherman has consistently run ahead of Berman in polls, the most recent of which found a 13-percentage-point gap.

In the poll, Berman trails Sherman among Democrats, Republicans and Jews. Nevertheless, Berman has campaigned for Republican votes and has obtained endorsements from some prominent GOP figures – which drips with irony.

Thirty-two years ago, when Berman was a state legislator, he tried to topple the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, Leo McCarthy, but Republicans saw him as a partisan threat – in part because of Michael Berman's redistricting acumen – and helped Willie Brown become Assembly speaker instead.

In recent weeks, remnants of McCarthy's old San Francisco coterie have been raising money for Sherman in retaliation.

Sherman's ahead, but by no means has a lock. And Republicans love it that the two are spending millions of dollars in their duel rather than spending the money against GOP candidates.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Dan Walters



Dan Walters, political columnist

Dan Walters

Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than a half-century, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. At one point in his career, at age 22, he was the nation's youngest daily newspaper editor.

He joined The Sacramento Union's Capitol bureau in 1975, just as Jerry Brown began his first governorship, and later became the Union's Capitol bureau chief. In 1981, Walters began writing the state's only daily newspaper column devoted to California political, economic and social events and, in 1984, he and the column moved to The Sacramento Bee. He has written more than 7,500 columns about California and its politics and his column now appears in dozens of California newspapers.

Email: dwalters@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1195
Twitter: @WaltersBee

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