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Valley business group hosts Sherman-Berman debate

by Jonah Lowenfeld

September 25, 2012 | 12:02 pm

Rep. Howard Berman, left, and Rep. Brad Sherman at a debate in Van Nuys on Sept. 25. Photo by Jonah Lowenfeld

At a debate on Tuesday morning, Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman each put forward – yet again – the reasons why each feels they should be sent back to Washington, D.C., for another term in office.

The debate, sponsored by the Valley Industry & Commerce Association (VICA), allowed the two candidates to present their positions on issues including job creation, trade policy and health care reform to their business-focused hosts. In many instances, the two candidates explicitly stated that they were in agreement on certain matters.

But the best illustration of the choice facing voters in the 30th district this November – when the two Democratic congressmen, who have similar voting records, will face off against one another in a runoff election – came during their back and forth over how to best protect intellectual property from digital piracy.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a law backed by Hollywood that critics contended would have “broken the Internet,” was roundly defeated in the court of public opinion in early 2012. But in this race, the debate is still raging. 

Sherman, who co-sponsored the legislation and said he agreed with its objectives, said the lawmakers had written the legislation in a way that played into its opponents’ arguments.

“It was the worst script since ‘Ishtar,’” Sherman said, winning a few laughs from the 75 or so VICA members in attendance. “It was the worst rollout since Edsel.”

Berman, who is often referred to as “the Congressman from Hollywood” thanks to his advocacy for entertainment industry interests, and also co-sponsored the legislation, defended SOPA, calling the opponents’ arguments “bogus.” He went on to accuse Sherman of kowtowing to public opinion, and said that Republican Congressman Darell Issa, who forcefully opposed the legislation, endorsed Berman in April specifically because he was confident that he and Berman could “go into a closed room and ... work out the differences on SOPA to provide something effective to deal with the scourge of digital theft.”

Sherman wasted no time in rebutting Berman’s attack, saying that what congressmen needed to do was listen to the American people. “You can’t go into a closed room with Darrell Issa write a bill and figure it’s going to pass,” Sherman said.

And that, in a nutshell, is part of what’s at stake in this unusual race.

Sherman presents himself as the one who listens to the Valley, often expressing populist sentiments that don’t always get translated into law or policy, but have, Sherman argues, impacted law by ensuring that certain bad policies don't get enacted. When Sherman touts his supporters, he often does so in bulk, mentioning that he has the support of every elected official who lives in the West San Fernando Valley district (save one, Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, who once worked for Berman).

Berman, meanwhile, is – still, despite the changes in his campaign’s direction -- making an insider’s argument that he is a more effective legislator than Sherman. On Tuesday, he listed some of his endorsers collectively – most of the Congressional representatives from around the district have sided with him – but he listed each of the five Senators backing him by name.

If Berman is making a qualitative argument – he used his closing statement on Tuesday morning to mention his having won endorsements from both the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News – Sherman is making a quantitative one. He opened by citing numbers from polls that show he’s still ahead in this race. An independent poll taken earlier this month showed him 13 points ahead of Berman.

Berman has always maintained that this race would be an uphill battle, and Brandon Hall, his campaign manager, acknowledged that even at this late date, that’s still the case, and cited the campaign’s internal, unreleased polling as evidence.

“We’ll concede that we’re still trailing,” Hall said on Tuesday morning. “But it’s single digits.”

The election is six weeks -- 42 days -- away.

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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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