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Is the Berman v. Sherman race actually important? Or just interesting?

by Jonah Lowenfeld

July 20, 2012 | 5:32 pm

When November finally rolls around, there will be some hugely important choices to make.

Aside from the obvious one—Presidential election, anyone?—there are also some big decisions for voters to make on the 11 state propositions that will appear on the California ballot. Should the state raise taxes to help avoid cuts in education? How about repealing the death penalty, or requiring producers of genetically modified foods to label them as such? And should the state prevent unions from using the dues they collect by deducting from members’ payrolls for political activities?

These are major questions that could have potentially state-changing (or industry changing) impacts.

But what about voters in the West San Fernando Valley facing a choice between Rep. Howard Berman and Rep. Brad Sherman? With substantive differences between the two lawmakers few and far between, is this race really that important?

Talk to the partisans who’ve picked a side—and I have, repeatedly—and they’ll portray the choice between Howard and Brad as a hugely significant one, on par with any congressional race in recent memory.

But Scott Lay, a former Democratic party activist based in Sacramento who publishes “The Nooner,” a daily newsletter about California politics and policy, doesn’t buy the argument that these two Democrats “couldn’t be more different.”

“I think it’s important for the movie/recording industry in terms of having a BFF in Congress,” Lay wrote to The Journal in an email, referring to Berman’s role as the so-called Congressman from Hollywood. “That said, the differential on actual policy votes is probably less than 2%.”

Since 2007, Lay wrote in a recent edition of his newsletter, Berman and Sherman had voted together 97 percent of the time, and voted with the caucus 95 percent of the time. (To do that analysis, Lay used a Web site – something that Congressman Henry Waxman would likely disapprove of.)

Even if they vote similarly, don’t Berman and Sherman focus their attentions on different subjects?

“Yes, legislative priorities in your congressman is important,” Lay wrote, “but let’s face it that neither -erman will be driving policy in Washington, particularly since Democrats have almost no chance of recapturing the House in November.”

That said, Lay is paying attention to the race. He recently named the 30th district as the “most interesting” congressional contest in California.

“It’s most interesting because of the story that played out over the last year,” Lay wrote, “with the strong behind-the-scenes push to get Sherman to run in Ventura, along with the fact that Michael Berman always protected Howard as he was the major player in congressional redistricting over the years.”

Both campaigns will face a challenge in November—not just getting voters to the polls, but getting them to stick around and actually cast ballots in this congressional race. Because while “interesting” may attract news coverage, only “important” races fire up voters.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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As a result of California’s 2011 redistricting, two Jewish Democratic incumbent congressmen, Howard Berman (D - Valley Village) and Brad Sherman (D - Sherman Oaks), have both...

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