Rep. Howard Berman (D)
California 28th District
A hiker looking north from the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains in 1910 would have seen a valley almost totally empty and barren, 20 miles long and 12 miles wide. Separated by the Cahuenga Pass from rapidly growing Los Angeles and Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley was bought up in massive tracts by civic leaders as they were urging city engineer William Mulholland to build a huge 250-mile aqueduct from the Owens Valley to give Los Angeles water and persuading the city in 1915 to annex 200 square miles of the Valley. In the years after World War II, this was modern suburbia, filled with Leave It to Beaver families. Today the San Fernando Valley is postmodern urban, with Disney headquarters in Burbank and Universal City’s CityWalk shopping and entertainment center. The driver topping the crest today sees office towers looming out over slightly hazy air, shopping centers, occasional palm trees, stucco subdivisions, and the squat factory and warehouse buildings that have made Los Angeles County a top manufacturing locale. The Valley has aged, in some ways gracefully. Homeowners in Van Nuys, Sun Valley, and Granada Hills are forming preservation districts, maintaining the antic architecture of the Valley in the 1950s.
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The people in the Valley have also changed. The 1950s white Anglo families with stay-at-home moms have been replaced by hard-working Latino families with parents juggling two jobs. But there is continuity: These are communities where people work hard trying to raise children who will have a better chance than they had. Pacoima, at the northern end of the Valley, where Rodney King was pulled over and beaten and arrested, is mostly Latino. Farther south, in Canoga Park, Van Nuys, and Burbank, was the industrial base—the GM plants were mostly shut down in the 1980s, and only one of the defense plants remains open, the old Rocketdyne plant, which is now owned by Pratt and Whitney. But now there are hundreds of small factories and multimedia plants where thousands of jobs have been created. The southern rim of the Valley, around Studio City and North Hollywood, is still heavily Jewish and is attracting new families who often send their kids to religious schools. There is a trendy and lively shopping strip along Ventura Boulevard. People with money cluster near the foot of the mountains around the Valley; those less well off settle on the flatlands beyond. But rich or poor, many of these neighborhoods were hit hard when the housing bubble burst in 2007 and 2008. With its perpetually inflated real estate market, the Valley suffered from a huge wave of foreclosures.
The 28th Congressional District of California consists of about half of the San Fernando Valley and some of the mountains to the south. It includes parts of Van Nuys and several miles of land on either side of the Hollywood Freeway, from the point where it comes through the Cahuenga Pass from Hollywood to the junction with the Golden State Freeway. Much of the northern end of the Valley, including Pacoima and the small city of San Fernando, is in the district. Mulholland Drive, which runs along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Ventura Freeway, is the southern border, until the district dips south to Hollywood Boulevard. Within these borders are affluent North Hollywood, Studio City, Sherman Oaks, and Encino, with big houses on twisting streets overlooking the Valley and just above the shops of Ventura Boulevard. The population of the district is about 57% Hispanic, mostly concentrated in the central and northern sections. But Hispanics are still not the majority voting bloc here, because many are not citizens, and many are children or young people not yet in the voting stream. The high Democratic percentages here are due as much to Jewish as to Latino voters. The spark of hope that some Republicans saw in this district when George W. Bush’s percentage rose from 24% in 2000 to 28% in 2004 was doused when Republican John McCain got only 22% in 2008.
Rep. Howard Berman (D)
Elected: 1982, 14th term.
Born: April 15, 1941, Los Angeles .
Home: N. Hollywood.
Education: U.C.L.A., B.A. 1962, LL.B. 1965.
Family: Married (Janis); 2 children.
Elected office: CA Assembly, 1973–82, maj. ldr., 1974–79.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1967–72.
The congressman from the 28th District is Howard Berman, a Democrat first elected in 1982. He has endured as one of the most creative members of the House and one of the most clear-sighted operators in American politics. Berman grew up in Los Angeles in modest circumstances. His father was a Polish immigrant who worked in the textile industry. Berman got interested in politics in high school and went to the University of California at Los Angeles, where he befriended Henry Waxman, who has been an ally in politics ever since. Today, Waxman is an influential House member from California’s 30th District. At UCLA law school, Berman got an internship at the California Assembly and was assigned to farm-labor issues with César Chávez’s movement. “From then on, I was hooked,” Berman said. A few years later, he and Waxman were elected to the California Assembly, Berman by beating the Assembly’s Republican leader in a Hollywood Hills district. This was the beginning of the so-called Berman-Waxman political machine—not so much a precinct organization as a group of consultants who raised money, redrew district lines, and endorsed candidates through direct mail. Their core constituency was liberal Westside Jews. A key player was Berman’s brother Michael Berman, who became an expert on redistricting and who helped draw the new lines for California after the 2000 census. Howard Berman became Assembly Majority Leader in his first term. In 1980, he tried to unseat Speaker Leo McCarthy, but ultimately they both lost to Willie Brown, who remained in the post for 15 years. Berman’s consolation prize was a Valley-based congressional seat in 1982. The machine fell on hard times in the 1990s, as Republicans wrested away control of redistricting and the feminist left became the Democratic Party’s driving force. “We don’t have a machine anymore, if we ever did,” Berman said in 2004. “We just helped some friends.” In recent years, Berman has been a political force on his own, with a record that is mostly but not always liberal.
|Howard Berman (D)||137,471||(100%)||($1,287,898)|
|Howard Berman (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (74%), 2004 (71%), 2002 (71%), 2000 (84%), 1998 (82%), 1996 (66%), 1994 (63%), 1992 (61%), 1990 (61%), 1988 (70%), 1986 (65%), 1984 (63%), 1982 (60%)
Berman has been an active legislator on all manner of issues, but not one who gets much publicity. On foreign policy, he started off less as a Vietnam War dove than as a backer of Israel. For a decade, he floor-managed foreign-aid authorization bills, defending aid to many countries as well as Israel. With the respected Henry Hyde, an Illinois conservative, Berman wrote the law authorizing embargoes on nations that condone terrorism. In April 1990, he called for sanctions on Iraq, four months before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Berman also voted for the Gulf War resolution. He played a critical role in winning passage by a wide margin of the Iraq War resolution in October 2002. He strongly supported military action against Iraq, and in September he organized a group of Democrats who shared his views. Berman’s discussions led to Minority Leader Richard Gephardt’s agreement with the administration on the terms of the resolution—talks that undercut the demands of other senior Democrats, including then Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden. In June 2006, Berman voted for the Republican resolution to reject a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.
Berman has been a major player on immigration as well. In 1988, he sponsored the legislation allowing 20,000 immigrant visas for migrants without close relatives in the United States, to be selected randomly by computer—“Berman visa applications,” they are called. In 2003, he and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., worked out a bipartisan agreement to temporarily legalize farm workers and give them a way to eventually become legal residents. But it was set aside in favor of President George W. Bush’s broader guest-worker program, although that legislation failed to be enacted after many months of debate.
Berman also focuses on intellectual-property issues of vital concern to the entertainment and high-tech industries, both with a strong presence in this district. From his seat on the Judiciary Committee, he won passage of an anti-cyber-squatting law to discourage pouncing on website names, a 2003 law creating new judgeships to determine copyright royalty rates and distribution of royalties, and a bipartisan bill creating criminal penalties for mass downloaders of music and requiring file-sharing software to contain warnings of security risk. Electronics-industry lobbyist John Palafoutas described what it’s like being on the opposing side of Berman on an issue: “There are two problems with Howard Berman,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “One, he’s really smart. And two, he knows how to represent his constituents, which in this case is Hollywood.”
In 2007, after Democrats won a House majority, Berman moved up to chairman of the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. He won passage in the House of a major reform of the patent law, creating a new review process and giving legal priority to the “first inventor to file,” thereby replacing what some said was the outdated “first to invent” standard. A major beneficiary would have been the technology industry, which had been the target of a slew of nuisance lawsuits for patent-infringement claims. The Senate did not complete action on the bill in the 110th Congress (2007-08), and Berman likely will try again in the new Congress.
From 1997 to 2003, Berman was the ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee. During his tenure, few complaints were filed for partisan reasons. After he left the committee in 2003, that no longer was the case. Then in 2006, when Ethics Committee senior Democrat Alan Mollohan of West Virginia resigned the post because of ethics questions raised about him, Pelosi asked Berman to take the post. “This is an honor I could have done without,” Berman said. “The ethics committee should be neither a member protection agency nor a forum for deciding partisan and ideological battles. If the committee chooses to pursue either option, then expect my tenure to be even briefer than it is intended to be.” He worked amicably with Chairman Doc Hastings, a Washington state Republican, and the committee staff.
After revelations that Florida Republican Mark Foley had sent sexually suggestive emails to Capitol pages but was treated lightly by House leaders, Hastings and Berman formed an investigative subcommittee and promised an expedited probe. Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute wrote at the time: “The House Ethics Committee’s tattered reputation is on the line, and two words are keeping it from total collapse: Howard Berman.” The subcommittee worked late hours throughout October 2006, interviewing Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert, his top aides and others who had knowledge of Foley’s emails and explicit instant messages. The committee issued an exhaustive report on December 8, finding fault with the way House leaders had handled the Foley problem but declining to recommend any disciplinary action.
In February 2008, Berman took over as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee following the death of Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif. Berman staked out positions concerning several of the world’s trouble spots. Despite his more supportive views of the war in Iraq, he avoided proposals that could create conflict with Pelosi and the Democratic Caucus. His own views had evolved by that time, and he now had doubts about the prospects for U.S. success. So he helped craft measurable “benchmarks” for progress in Iraq.
Berman has been a longtime backer of sanctions on Iran to limit the development of its nuclear arsenal, and he focused on Russia as the chief stumbling block to an agreement. His most significant legislative achievement during his first year as chairman was approval of the civilian nuclear agreement with India, despite his earlier concern about proliferation of nuclear weapons. As part of the deal, he insisted on increased congressional oversight, including a requirement that the president notify Congress of new discussions with India. Regarding the Middle East, Berman remained a strong supporter of Israel and of increased military sales to that country. He also has a goal of overhauling the foreign-assistance program after years of Republican policies.
Berman is not the most senior member of the California delegation, but he is the go-to guy on many state issues. One California Assembly lobbyist said of him, “He’s the conscience and dad of the delegation. In this era of term limits and turnover, Howard Berman is the constant. He has a vast institutional knowledge of issues in both Congress and the Legislature that is rare these days.”
California gained one seat in the 2000 Census, and Democrats controlled the process. Berman’s brother, Michael, was hired as redistricting consultant by all U.S. House and state Senate Democrats at $20,000 per member. When the lines were unveiled in August 2001, the biggest controversy came over the San Fernando Valley. Rep. Brad Sherman, the Democrat from the 27th District, claimed that Howard Berman had been given too much of his secure territory and had added a significant number of Hispanics. “Howard Berman stabbed me in the back,” Sherman said. Berman agreed to negotiate, adjustments were made in the lines, and Sherman’s district ended up 37% Hispanic and Berman’s 56%. The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund immediately took the plan to court, arguing that seats in the San Fernando Valley and San Diego tended to reduce Hispanic representation. The court approved the plan in June 2002. Although redistricting outcomes are unpredictable, not least in California, it’s possible to imagine a similar battle between Berman and Sherman in 2011. By then, Hispanic lawmakers in Sacramento may have more leverage to protect their community’s interests.
Berman may have at least one more big committee move in the House. Although he gave up his Judiciary Committee slot immediately behind Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., after he took over at Foreign Affairs, he could reclaim it following the departure of Conyers, who is the second most senior House member. The opportunity to be a central player on issues ranging from courts and immigration to the copyright conflicts of the entertainment industry may be an irresistible capstone for this entrepreneurial lawmaker.