Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
In his race for reelection in the new 30th congressional district, Rep. Brad Sherman (D - Sherman Oaks) won a victory of a sort on January 22. In a preliminary meeting known as a pre-endorsement conference, more than half of the Democratic party activists from the new 30th congressional district urged the party to endorse Sherman.
Sherman’s opponent, fellow Democratic incumbent congressman Rep. Howard Berman (D - Van Nuys), received 36 percent of the votes, with the remainder advising the party not to endorse either candidate.
By winning more than 50 percent of the votes cast, Sherman guaranteed that a second vote would be held at the Democratic Party convention in San Diego next month. The nomination process in this internecine contest could end up taking these two long-standing congressmen all the way to an open battle for the party’s endorsement on the floor at the convention.
The 30th district vote was the last one taken at a meeting in Van Nuys that lasted almost four hours. Endorsements in 10 different state assembly, state senate and congressional races were considered. Most other races either produced one clear winner, resulting in a recommendation to endorse, or left the field so evenly split that the process of endorsement was halted immediately.
But in the 30th district race, when the votes were tallied, Sherman received 77 votes, or 54 percent of the total number of ballots cast. Berman received 52 votes from the district’s party activists.
The two campaigns have been ferociously fighting for every endorsement, and the atmosphere on Sunday was tense. The Democratic Party official who was running the meeting made a lengthy and vague reference to allegations of “irregularities” in the process of casting ballots in the race between Sherman and Berman.
Even though Sherman may have received more votes—votes could be cast by mail or fax—in the hall, the most vocal support was clearly lined up behind Berman.
Supporters waved “Reelect Congressman Howard Berman” signs when Berman got up to outline his record over nearly 30 years in congress. Even after Sherman spoke, touting his endorsements by local Democratic clubs and his 100 percent rating from the AFL-CIO, many in the crowd chanted “Howard, Howard.”
“I wasn’t a bit surprised,” Berman said of the result of the vote after the event. “This is Brad’s strongest forum, and this now goes to San Diego.”
A recommendation to endorse an incumbent that reaches the floor of the convention usually only requires a simple majority to pass. But in the 30th district, where two incumbents are facing off against one another, a 60 percent majority will be needed—if it makes it to the floor at all. Berman said that he felt “comfortable” about what he would face in San Diego and sounded dubious about the prospects of a party endorsement being made in the race.
“My best guess is we’ll get nowhere near endorsing anyone,” Berman said.
But Parke Skelton, a consultant for the Sherman for Congress Campaign, celebrated Sunday’s result.
“Once again it is crystal clear,” Skelton said in an emailed statement. “The Democrats who live and vote in [the 30th congressional district] know, trust and support Brad Sherman,”
Many of the races considered at the pre-endorsement conference featured only one candidate. Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, who is running for reelection in the 45th Assembly district, is one such candidate.
Closely allied with Berman, Blumenfield used his two minutes to urge people to avoid intra-party fighting. He cited his own experience of receiving a pre-endorsement conference recommendation in 2008, only to have that recommendation stripped at the convention.
“When we’re united there’s no stopping us,” Blumenfield said. “But when we’re divided, the Republicans win.”
Party unity isn’t an option in some races. Four candidates are running for office in the 46th assembly district, and no single candidate took 50 percent of the vote on Sunday, eliminating the possibility of the party nominating a single candidate. All four Democrats will appear on the open primary ballot this June. While their party affiliation will appear on the ballot, no official party endorsement will be made.
Other candidates recommended for endorsement on Sunday included State Senator Fran Pavley, who is running for re-election in the new 27th district. Initially, there were two names of candidates on the sheet of paper hanging on the front wall—Pavley’s and that of former Assembly Speaker and one-time Los Angeles Mayoral Candidate Bob Hertzberg. Hertzberg, who is reportedly considering running in the 27th senate district, had not yet filed or paid, so he was not considered.
3.14.13 at 9:24 am | The veteran former congressman joins Covington &. . .
1.4.13 at 3:55 pm | Colleagues paid tribute in in the House chamber. . .
12.19.12 at 4:06 pm | In political campaigns, how and when a strategist. . .
12.12.12 at 1:22 pm | Sherman and Berman spent $40 for each registered. . .
11.13.12 at 12:22 am | And this blogger scratches his head.
11.7.12 at 3:46 pm | The National Jewish Democratic Council sent this. . .
6.13.12 at 2:56 pm | This November, Allan Hoffman is going to have a. . . (5)
3.14.13 at 9:24 am | The veteran former congressman joins Covington &. . . (4)
7.5.12 at 11:30 am | Eve Kurtin didn’t intend to take a side in the. . . (2)
January 19, 2012 | 1:05 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
A correction to our coverage of the debate between Brad Sherman and Howard Berman (Sherman Lays Into Berman in Four-way Congressional Debate, Jan. 13) appears in the print edition of the Jewish Journal that hits newsstands today.
The problematic sentence in the original article read as follows:
“On more than one occasion, Sherman attacked Berman for supporting a bill that he himself had also voted for.”
So let’s clear this up. At the debate, Sherman assailed Berman on a number of topics, including his support of the $700 billion bailout of the banks passed by Congress in 2008. Sherman led a rebellion against the bailout, known as TARP, and voted against the bailout. Berman voted for it. No flip-flop there.
More complicated—and perhaps more significant—were Sherman’s jabs at Berman for his support of the Iraq War. Sherman did vote for the resolution authorizing the war in 2002—that’s part of why we thought it unusual that he attacked Berman, an early supporter of the war effort, so fiercely.
But as Sherman pointed out at the debate (and as his campaign manager, Parke Skelton clarified in a subsequent email), Sherman supported the war resolution only grudgingly, and only after attempting to limit the mandate for war given to President George W. Bush. He introduced one amendment and supported another that would have had that effect. It appears that neither the Davis amendment nor the Sherman amendment made it out of committee—Berman voted against both of them. Ultimately, Sherman voted in favor of the resolution authorizing the Iraq war, a move he characterized at the debate as a mistake.
The last Americans troops left Iraq at the end of last year. Could their past stances on this unpopular war help voters distinguish between Berman and Sherman, two Democrats with very similar voting records? That’s a question we’ll take a look at in a future post.
January 5, 2012 | 5:30 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
The four candidates vying to represent California’s newly redrawn 30th congressional district in the West San Fernando Valley met on stage for the first time in a heated town hall on January 5.
Two long-serving incumbent Jewish Democratic congressmen who have represented adjacent districts in the valley for more than a decade, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), focused their attention on their records.
Meanwhile, the two Republican candidates, businessman/actor Mark Reed, who ran unsuccessfully against Sherman in 2010, and writer Susan Shelley each hammered home the message that voters should throw out their current representatives.
Over 300 people gathered in an empty retail space at a Woodland Hills shopping mall to hear the candidates present their positions on topics including the economy, President Obama’s 2009 health care law, Israel and the Iranian threat, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most of the media attention thus far has focused on the contest between Sherman and Berman, who were thrown into the same district by the 2011 round of redistricting. Both congressmen are considered to be staunch Israel supporters, and many in the Jewish community had hoped this internecine battle could have been avoided.
On Thursday, Berman, who has been in congress since 1983, looked like he initially wanted to stay somewhat positive, presenting himself as a lawmaker who got things done. He touted a long list of accomplishments including securing federal funds to expand the 405 freeway and establishing the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy.
That attitude lasted about three minutes—until Sherman introduced himself and began swinging directly at his fellow Democrat.
“Howard has been very effective—on the wrong side,” Sherman said, pointing to, among other things, Berman’s support for free trade agreements. Since coming to Congress in 1997, Sherman has opposed such agreements, and his protectionist stance has won him the endorsements of five major labor unions in this race so far.
“I love organized labor,” Berman countered, arguing that erecting trade barriers in the United States resulted in fewer American jobs. “But just because I love them doesn’t mean I have to agree with them every time.”
But Sherman’s most frequently repeated criticism of Berman focused on what might seem like an arcane issue—the existence of multiple independent expenditure committees that are planning to support Berman.
Commonly referred to as Super-PACs, these committees are allowed to accept unlimited donations from corporations and individuals and then may spend that money in support of or opposition to a particular candidate, provided they do not coordinate their actions with the candidate’s campaign.
Wielding a poster-sized reproduction of a letter he had sent to Berman one day earlier, Sherman asked his fellow Democrat to sign a pledge to forgo any advantage derived from outside money groups by donating an amount of money from his own campaign fund to the U.S. Treasury equivalent to the amount spent by any Super-PACs on his behalf.
Hosted by the Woodland Hills-Tarzana Chamber of Commerce, the forum’s moderator asked a few questions about local issues that fell beyond the jurisdiction of Congress that left the veteran lawmakers puzzled. “I’m not running for the state legislature,” Sherman said in response to a question about whether California state laws about the environment should be relaxed.
Other questions—like the one asking whether the candidates would support requiring voters to present photo identification to vote in state and federal elections—divided the candidates on predictably partisan lines, with the Republicans in favor and the Democrats against.
The 30th district has almost twice as many registered Democrats as it does Republicans, and, for the first time this year, all four candidates will face off in a single open primary in June. The top two vote getters will advance to a run-off in November.
The forum did touch on foreign policy, and the candidates were asked whether they would support Israel taking preemptive action against alleged Iranian nuclear weapons development sites.
“Israel is gonna do what Israel is gonna do,” Sherman said, adding that he had been an early advocate for sanctions against Iran. Berman also talked about his role in passing sanctions in congress at the end of 2011 and called a nuclear Iran “the single greatest international security threat we face.”
Shelly, who is Jewish, said she would support an Israeli air strike against Iranian nuclear sites.
Reed went one step further. “What I support, before that, is a preemptive strike by America on Iran,” he said.
Neither Shelly nor Reed has ever held elective office, and both of them pledged to stay true to the U.S. Constitution, sounding very much like the conservative voices that have dominated the nation’s political scene in recent years. Both criticized the efforts at economic stimulus and the recent health care overhaul.
Shelley put forward a 5 percent national flat tax that she said would attract businesses from all around the world to the United States, and railed against “too much government control.” Reed, who initially appeared to ignore Shelley entirely, proposed ending unemployment benefits, earning boos from some in the crowd.
Sherman and Berman have very similar voting records, and the two congressmen did, at times, give nearly identical answers. In response to a question about noise at the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, both incumbents noted that they were working together on federal legislation with Rep. Adam Schiff (D - Burbank) to tackle the problem.
A “straw poll” was taken at the end of the event, but organizers said that the results would probably not be posted on the chamber’s website for a few days.
January 4, 2012 | 8:35 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
In the race for California’s 30th district, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) is running ahead of fellow Jewish Democratic incumbent Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), an independent political newsletter has reported.
“Look, Sherman has released a poll showing him far ahead,” said David Wasserman, the house editor at The Cook Political Report, an independent newsletter that began publishing political analysis since 1984. “Berman has not released any polling thus far. That reflects that Sherman is starting this race with an initial advantage, primarily because he occupies more of the district.”
The listing of California’s 30th district as “lean[ing] Sherman” was included in a broader report published last month about House incumbents’ reelection chances. Sherman’s campaign circulated the report as further evidence that the eight-term incumbent is leading in the race against Berman, who has been serving in congress since 1983.
Wasserman’s analysis relied in part on a poll from August 2011 paid for by the Sherman campaign that showed Sherman beating Berman by wide margins—25 percentage points in a three-way race and 27 points in a head-to-head match-up.
“I don’t believe it’s quite that wide, and I also believe it will narrow,” Wasserman said. “This is not a race that is by any means an easy one for Sherman to win, or as easy as his poll would suggest.”
Like all elections, the race between Berman and Sherman will come down to a lot of different factors, including the amount of money that will be spent on what some have called the most expensive congressional campaign in American history.
Sherman had more cash on hand than Berman did at the end of September 2011, the most recent numbers available, but Berman has probably narrowed the funding gap since then. Berman’s campaign raised $1.6 million at a fundraiser in November, and two separate independent expenditure committees that can accept unlimited donations, known as Super-PACs, are known to be supporting Berman’s candidacy.
“Berman’s money advantage will help tighten this race,” Wasserman said, “but there’s another thing at work here too. These days a long list of endorsements from party officials and fellow members of a Washington delegation don’t necessarily sway Democratic voters like they used to.”
Both candidates have announced endorsements in recent months, with Sherman winning the support of five labor unions and Berman touting the support of 23 of the other California Democrats in the House of Representatives.
December 28, 2011 | 1:46 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Kicking off what many expect to be a long, hard-fought and expensive campaign in the 30th congressional district, the Woodland Hills - Tarzana Chamber of Commerce is convening a candidates’ town hall meeting on Thursday, Jan. 5.
The two well-known and well-funded Democratic incumbents, Reps. Brad Sherman (D- Sherman Oaks) and Howard Berman (D - Van Nuys), will be there, as will the two Republican challengers, businessman Mark Reed and author Susan Shelley.
Ordinarily, one might not see candidates from opposing parties sharing a stage this early in the election process, but in accordance with a new voter-approved California election law, 2012 will mark the first time that all candidates will compete in a single primary in June. Assuming no candidate wins an outright majority in the first round of voting—which some have called a “jungle primary”—the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will face off in a run-off in November.
Sean McCarthy, the chamber’s chairman of government affairs, will serve as the moderator of the event, which will follow a town hall format. Candidates will be invited to make opening statements, and will then field questions “from chamber members and from audience members,” according to a description on the chamber’s website. Questions are expected to cover the economy, the ability or inability of Congress to function, and foreign policy.
“Each candidate will be given equal opportunity to answer all questions,” the statement on the website added.
The free event begins at 6:30 pm and is being hosted by Westfield at the Promenade Mall, Warner Center, in the former Dicks’ Sporting Goods Store on the basement level.
December 25, 2011 | 8:06 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
The redistricting panel that redrew California’s political boundaries earlier this year was created by ballot initiative in an effort to ensure that voters choose their politicians and not the other way around. But as noted in an earlier entry on this blog, a recent ProPublica investigation suggests that Democratic officials made concerted efforts to sway California’s redistricting panel in an effort to protect incumbents.
And in a Q&A-formatted update to their story on December 23, the ProPublica journalists identified what they called “evidence of an effort to influence the [redistricting] process” that can be traced back to Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who is facing fellow incumbent Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), in a race for reelection in the newly redrawn 30th congressional district.
Here’s how ProPublica’s Olga Pierce, Jeff Larson and Lois Beckett explained it:
According to FEC [Federal Election Commission] records, on May 23, Sherman’s PAC [Political Action Committee] paid $15,000, to an entity it called “PMPA” in their disclosures. The address of PMPA is the home of redistricting consultant Paul Mitchell’s mother in Glendale. One of Paul Mitchell’s firms is called Paul Mitchell Public Affairs, or PMPA. It’s not clear what the work was for. Mitchell didn’t respond to our request about his work about Sherman.
In the end, Sherman appears to have come out ahead. The so-called Berman-Sherman district was 60 percent from Sherman’s old district, and 16 percent from Berman’s district.
Sherman’s office did not return our requests for comment.
Berman, who was quoted in the ProPublica reporters’ recent update, said he didn’t try to influence this year’s process. Berman effectively ran California’s congressional redistricting process before the Citizens Redistricting Commission was created.
It’s Christmas, but this blogger will make inquiries to the Sherman campaign and to Mitchell after the holiday.
December 23, 2011 | 8:55 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
UPDATE: The ProPublica reporters behind this story have answered some of my questions as well as those from other readers. Read their full update here.
As a journalist working at a nonprofit news organization, I have a good deal of appreciation for what the reporters at ProPublica are trying to do—namely, cover stories nobody in the mostly corporate-owned media is willing or able to tackle. And the independent, nonprofit newsroom’s recently published article, “How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission,” has set the political chattering classes in Sacramento and elsewhere in the Golden State into about as much of a tizzy as can be mustered in late December.
At the heart of Olga Pierce and Jeff Larson’s story is a simple assertion: that individuals at the heart of the California Democratic party launched a coordinated effort in 2011 to deceptively steer the brand-new California Citizens Redistricting Commission into drawing districts that would protect the reelection chances of Democratic incumbents.
There are a number of problems that critics of Pierce and Larson’s story have pointed to, but one in particular is salient for readers of this blog: Their story does not mention the Democratic incumbents who, as a result of the lines drawn by the commission, are facing off against one another.
That’s right: ProPublica succeeded in writing a story about this year’s California redistricting process that doesn’t rehash the (already quite hashed) tale of Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, the two Jewish Democratic incumbents in the San Fernando Valley who are both running for reelection in California’s new 30th district.
And by ignoring this part of the story, Pierce and Larson appear to have overstated their thesis about the Democratic influence over redistricting in the state as a whole.
Their article is worth reading in full, because much of what they write is absolutely spot on. Democrats did fight against the propositions that created and empowered the Citizens Redistricting Commission. From the emails the ProPublica reporters dug up, it appears that some in the party did try to influence the commission, in part by identifying—or concocting, Pierce and Larson argue—“communities of interest” whose interests would align with those of a few Democratic incumbents.
But if influential figures in the Democratic party were, as the reporters contend, coordinating a centralized effort to fool the redistricting commission into helping their incumbents win reelection, would they really have allowed the Sherman v. Berman grudge match to materialize? Most of the Democratic House delegation has endorsed Berman in the race for the 30th district, and Rep. Henry Waxman in particular has been quite vocal in his support of his longtime ally. Would the Democratic party have coordinated an effort to “fool” the Citizens Redistricting Commission and not been pushed by these strong voices within its ranks to work to avoid the costly internal battle of the West San Fernando Valley, one that everybody knew was coming?
Perhaps they did. It’s entirely plausible no map or series of testimonies to the commission—however mustered or concocted—would have resulted in the creation of safe districts for both Berman and Sherman. It’s even plausible that those involved in the Democratic establishment saw that two safe seats for Democrats would be created in the San Fernando Valley and simply decided to let the incumbents decide their own fates.
But by not even mentioning the Berman v. Sherman race, Pierce and Larson have opened themselves up to accusations of confirmation bias. And that’s something of a shame. By leaving out evidence that doesn’t support their thesis, the reporters have tarnished what is otherwise an important piece of journalism. They dug where few others were actively digging, and found some evidence that politicians—of at least one party—were trying to keep control over a redistricting process that voters had worked to wrest away from them by two ballot measures in the past five years.
Politicians want to ensure their reelection chances, and they’ll even go so far as to employ consultants bearing well-drawn maps to help make it possible. Should that come as a surprise?
“That’s what happens in a democratic process,” redistricting consultant Paul Mitchell told the L.A. Times’ James Rainey last night on KCRW’s “Which Way L.A.” Mitchell, a Democrat, worked to sway the commission on behalf of clients, and was a particular focus of the ProPublica piece.
“It is ludicrous that any one party or interest would run the tables as people are reading the ProPublica article to say,” Mitchell wrote in his email newsletter on Dec. 22, “but it is equally ludicrous to believe that incumbents were not looking at maps, discussing testimony, and tracking the process.”
So, Pierce and Larson may or may not have gotten the story about what happened in 2011 right. But they have assembled a partial description of the playbook that both parties are sure to follow when the redistricting commission convenes again to redraw California’s political boundaries, in 2021.
November 16, 2011 | 5:38 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
At his fundraising dinner on Nov. 10, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Valley Village) acknowledged that his race for re-election in the West San Fernando Valley’s new 30th Congressional District is likely to be the most competitive challenge he’s faced in a while.
As a result of California’s citizen-led redistricting process that concluded over the summer, Berman is facing-off against another Jewish, Democratic incumbent congressman, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who is also pinning his hopes for re-election on the 30th District.
“To all of you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here when I really need you,” the 29-year veteran congressman Berman told his supporters, who packed the Beverly Hilton ballroom and helped add an additional $1.6 million to Berman’s growing war chest.
This intra-party race isn’t the only one shaping up in California, but because it pits two long-serving Jewish lawmakers who have been reliable Israel supporters against one another in a district with many Jewish voters, a Berman-Sherman battle was something pro-Israel Democratic activists had hoped could be avoided.
But what looked like an undesirable possibility this summer, when the race was the subject of a cover story in The Jewish Journal, now appears to have become reality.
Many observers predict the two candidates could spend a combined $10 million, or even $12 million, on the campaign. Berman has been raising funds quickly in an effort to catch up to Sherman, whose campaign, as of the end of September, had $3.7 million cash on hand, as compared to the Berman campaign’s $2.3 million.
The two are also battling to win endorsements — or, failing that, to deny them to the opposition. Three days before Berman’s fundraiser, Sherman won an endorsement from the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley (DPSFV), an organization that politicos refer to by its unpronounceable acronym (just say DIP-siv).
Misleadingly named, DPSFV is not an official arm of the Democratic Party, but rather a coordinating body for 27 local Democratic clubs. Berman and Sherman both addressed the DPSFV members at the meeting on Nov. 7, as did three supporters of each candidate.
Sixty-two percent of the DPSFV voters chose to endorse Sherman in the 30th District.
Eric Bauman, the vice chairman of the California Democratic Party and chair of Los Angeles’ Democratic Party, said that while the DPSFV endorsement wasn’t an indication of what the actual Democratic Party would do at its convention in February 2012, it was, nevertheless, “definitely important,” because it indicates that “Brad’s work over the years with grass-roots Democratic activists has had an important payoff.”
At the Berman fundraiser, the room was full of politicians, local leaders and numerous prominent and powerful members of the Los Angeles Jewish community.
(Full disclosure: According to filings obtained from the Federal Elections Commission, at least two members of the TRIBE Media Corp. board have made significant donations to Berman’s campaign, as has former Jewish Journal publisher Irwin Field.)
Berman is getting support from two Independent Expenditure Committees, often referred to as Super PACs. These political action committees, which officially must not coordinate their actions with candidates or political parties, can raise unlimited sums of money from individuals and corporations, and can use those funds to independently support or oppose a particular candidate.
On Nov. 9, the Los Angeles Times reported that a new Super PAC, the Valley-Israel Alliance, had been created to support Berman’s candidacy, the first such committee organized in support of a single congressional candidate.
And in an interview with The Journal at the Berman fundraiser, California State Sen. Alex Padilla confirmed that he has made phone calls to Berman supporters in recent weeks asking for contributions to a separate Independent Expenditure Committee that is supporting Berman, called Rebuilding America. (According to papers filed by the committee with the Federal Elections Commission, Rebuilding America could support other candidates as well.)
“I’ll do whatever needs to be done to ensure his [Berman’s] re-election next year,” Padilla said, noting that Rebuilding America already had received some contributions and was “gearing up” to make its first independent expenditures to help Berman tell his story to new constituents.
Berman and Sherman will face off in an open primary, alongside at least two declared Republican candidates seeking election in the heavily Democratic 30th District, in June 2012. l