The race for the newly drawn 30th Congressional District in California has drawn national attention. Two long-time Democratic incumbents–Howard Berman and Brad Sherman–are pitted against each other in what promises to be one of the mostly hotly contested and most expensive contests in the country. Why all the fuss?
On the surface, it wouldn’t seem to make much difference which candidate emerges on top. They are both relatively liberal Democrats with similar voting records. There is absolutely no question that a Democrat will win in November. The fact is that the outcome will make a big difference for Congress and California, in particular.
It is said that there are two kinds of politicians–show horses and work horses. Sherman is a classic show horse. He loves pressing the flesh and making pronouncements. He revels in the talking head segments of news and talk shows. You can take your life in your hands getting between Brad Sherman and a television camera. He has been tireless in showing up at weddings, bar mitzvahs, groundbreaking ceremonies and awards dinners in the San Fernando Valley. Legislative accomplishments–not so much. He has authored bills to name a couple of post offices and that’s about it.
On the other hand, Berman is a low key and tenacious lawmaker–the kind that you hardly every find any more. As ranking member and former Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Berman has been a quiet voice of reason working with Presidents of both parties. As a senior member of the House Judiciary, he plays a key role in working out thorny intellectual property issues that have a huge impact on the entertainment industry and Silicon Valley.
In the San Fernando Valley, there is also a stark contrast. Sherman has delivered speeches, while Berman has delivered federal dollars for police, transportation and other projects. the widening of the 405 Freeway is a case in point. Berman pushed tirelessly and got hundreds of millions of dollars into the last federal highway bill designated for the project. He then reached out to Sacramento to make sure that legislation authorizing Design Build for the project was enacted, despite resistance from the State engineers union. When Sherman tried to take credit for the 405 money, former House Transportation Chairman Jim Oberstar bluntly told the media that Sherman had nothing to do with it–it was all Berman.
Trade is the issue where there is the greatest distance between the two candidates. Sherman has voiced a largely protectionist line, while Berman has supported NAFTA and other important free trade agreements. For a state where trade and logistics are critical economic engines, putting up barriers to foreign commerce hardly seems helpful, but where it comes out politically is anybody’s guess.
California has a lot at stake in the Berman-Sherman race. With the retirement of veteran GOP stalwarts Jerry Lewis and David Dreier, there is a shortage of folks on the California delegation who can reach across the aisle and make things happen for the state. It says something that all five County Supervisors, including Republicans Antonovich and Knabe, have endorsed Berman, as have former Mayor Richard Riordan and District Attorney Steve Cooley. So have Governor Jerry Brown, Senators Feinstein and Boxer and 29 Democrats on the Congressional delegation. Add in Betty White and Berman has clearly come out ahead in the endorsement wars, but it remains to be seen whether voters care.
The new open primary system makes it likely that Berman and Sherman will face off in November. Sherman is the prototype retail politician who plays to the crowds, while Berman is the consummate insider–in the best sense of the word–whose record is actually his best asset. Voters in the district are in for a bumpy ride with mailers, cable TV spots, social media and campaign workers everywhere. Over $10 million is likely to be spent between the two campaigns. San Fernando Valley voters will have to sort it all out.