California: Twenty-Eighth District|
Rep. Howard Berman (D)
Last Updated July 8, 2003
A hiker looking north from the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains in 1910 would have seen spread out, almost totally empty and barren, 20 miles wide and 12 miles deep, the San Fernando Valley. Separated by the Cahuenga Pass from rapidly growing Los Angeles and Hollywood, the Valley was bought up in massive tracts by civic leaders even 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 a look you can see in exaggerated form in Disney headquarters buildings in Burbank or Universal City's CityWalk shopping mall: The driver topping the crest today sees office towers looming out over slightly hazy air, shopping centers, occasional palm trees, lines of grid streets stretching out into the distance beyond stucco subdivisions and the squat factory and warehouse buildings that make Los Angeles County a top manufacturing locale.
The people in the Valley have also changed. The white Anglo families with stay-at-home moms in the 1950s have been replaced by hard-working Latino families, with children waiting at the bus stops for schools and parents juggling two jobs. But there is continuity: These remain places where people work hard and try to raise children who will have better chances and make better livings than they have. 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, are the big aerospace plants; the GM assembly plants were shut down in the late 1980s, with thousands of jobs lost. Less visible are the hundreds of small factories and multimedia plants where thousands of jobs have been created. The lower income areas here are farther from the central city; 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 rims of the mountains around the Valley; those less well off settle on the flatlands beyond.
The 28th Congressional District consists of about half of the San Fernando Valley and some of the mountains in the south. It includes parts of Van Nuys and several miles of land on either side of the Hollywood Freeway from where it comes through the Cahuenga Pass from Hollywood up to the junction with the Golden State Freeway; much of the northern end of the Valley around the Golden State, 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, forms 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 56% Hispanic; the central and northern parts are much more Hispanic, while the southern end has a large Jewish population. But Hispanics are still not the majority voting bloc here; many are not citizens, many are children or young people not yet in the voting stream; and the tradition among Hispanics today, as among Italians 100 years ago, is to trust family and hard work, not politics and government, to get ahead. The high Democratic percentages here are due as much to Jewish as to Latino voters, who have both trended Democratic in the late 1990s, one group in response to the emergence of the Christian right, the other in response to the campaign for cutting off aid to illegal aliens which suggested, incorrectly, that Latinos are interested more in welfare than hard work.
The congressman from the 28th District is Howard Berman, one of the most aggressive and creative members of the House--and one of the most clear-sighted operators in American politics. He grew up in Los Angeles in modest circumstances, got interested in politics in high school and went to UCLA where he became friends with Henry Waxman, his ally in politics ever since. At UCLA law school he got an internship at the California Assembly. "I was assigned to the Assembly Agriculture Committee. It was dealing with farm labor issues and Cesar Chavez's movement. From then on, I was hooked." Just a few years later he and Waxman were elected to the Assembly, Waxman in 1968 from the Westside, Berman in 1972 by beating the Assembly 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; a key player was Berman's brother Michael Berman, who became an expert on redistricting and who drew the new lines in 2001. Their core constituency was liberal Westside Jews. Berman became Assembly Majority Leader in his first term. In 1980 he tried to unseat Speaker Leo McCarthy; ultimately both lost to Willie Brown, who served 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. Since then, Berman has been a political force on his own, with a record that is mostly but not always liberal.
Berman has been an active legislator even more than a political operator, and 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 Henry Hyde he 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 voted for the Gulf War resolution, but was understandably critical of the Bush administration--if it had followed his advice there might well have been no need for war. Berman has worked to stop the export of missile and nuclear weapons technology--an uphill battle in the Clinton years. He is supportive of organized labor and opposed trade promotion authority.
Berman passed a law banning the double-issuing of U.S. passports to coddle Arab countries that refuse to honor passports with Israeli marks. He offered an amendment to revoke PNTR with China if it attacks, invades or blockades Taiwan and, when that was rejected, voted against PNTR. Berman 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 came out from behind the scenes and organized a group of Democrats who shared his views. They broke off from the negotiations between Republicans and John Spratt, who ended up offering an alternative to the administration's resolution and talked directly to the Bush administration. He didn't seek the permission of Minority Leader Richard Gephardt but Berman's discussions led to Gephardt's agreement with the administration on the terms of the resolution--talks that undercut the demands of Spratt, Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden. As Berman describes the process, "the White House always knew they would be making changes. Now they will be able to say they did it because of input from the House Democrats. It's a win-win."
Immigration is another issue on which Berman has been a major legislator. In 1988 he sponsored the provision allowing 20,000 immigrant visas for migrants without close relatives here, to be selected randomly by computer--''Berman visa applications,'' they are called. He secured in 1990 more family reunification slots, expediting the immigration of Soviet Jews (a vivid presence in L.A.), and gaining amnesty provisions for more family members to remain in this country. In May 2000, as support grew for guest worker legislation, Berman entered negotiations with their sponsors to get provisions to protect incoming farm workers. He pushed especially for legal status for farm workers who have worked in this country for 150 days a year. The measure was killed in the Senate in December 2000, but will undoubtedly be revisited. In 2001 Berman, Lucille Roybal-Allard and Chris Cannon sponsored a bill to offer legal status to illegal immigrants 18 to 21 who had graduated from American high schools and enrolled in college.
In 1999 Berman took the ranking position on the Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee of Judiciary, one of vital importance to Hollywood interests. There he passed an anti-cybersquatting law to discourage pouncing on website names. In 2002 he filed a bill to enable copyright owners--primarily the record companies--to use technology to stop people from using peer-to-peer services to copy music; compact discs could contain software that would hack into people's P2P software. It was supported by subcommittee Chairman Howard Coble, but opposed vigorously by tech companies and music users as "vigilante legislation."
In January 1997 Minority Leader Dick Gephardt prevailed on Berman to become ranking minority member of the ethics committee, which had become badly scarred by partisanship during the investigation of Newt Gingrich. With his tacit encouragement, few ethics complaints have been filed for partisan reasons; he was released from this duty in January 2003. Though not the most senior member of the California delegation, 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."
One issue on which he was the dad of the delegation was redistricting. California gained one seat in the 2000 Census and Democrats controlled the process. Michael Berman was hired as redistricting consultant by all U.S. House and state Senate Democrats at $20,000 per member. Because Assembly members are limited to three two-year terms, these other Democrats couldn't count on Assembly Democrats to draw them favorable districts. The Bermans and Republican David Dreier and House Republican campaign chairman Tom Davis, an expert on redistricting himself, made a deal: 19 of the 20 House Republicans would get safe Republican districts and a new Republican district would be created in return for Republican votes for the plan in the state legislature. National Democrats were angry that Democrats didn't pick up more than one district. But Howard Berman defended the deal. "Sometimes the cautious move is the smart move. Time will tell. But I'm convinced that we made the right decision, given the vagaries of politics and unanticipated decisions," he said. When the lines were unveiled in August 2001, the biggest controversy came over the San Fernando Valley. Brad Sherman, the Democrat from the 27th District, claimed that Howard Berman had been given too much of his territory south of Ventura Boulevard, while Sherman would be given too many Hispanics to have a secure seat over the decade. "Howard Berman stabbed me in the back," Sherman said. At first Berman was dismissive but 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.
In any case, Hispanics are not a majority of voters in this district and are not likely to be before 2010, and Berman has in fact worked on issues like farm labor and immigration long before he had any significant number of Hispanic constituents. In 1998 he had primary competition from San Fernando Mayor Raul Godinez and won 67%-33%. In November 2002, against Republican David Hernandez, a proponent of Valley secession, he won 71%-23%.
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|National Journal Ratings
For National Journal's complete 2002 Vote Ratings, as well as previous ratings dating back to 1995, please click here.|
Key Votes Of The 107th Congress
|1. Approve Bush Tax Cuts
|2. Limit Patients' Bill of Rights
|3. Campaign Finance Reform
|4. Ban ANWR Development
|5. Faith-Based Charities
|6. Bar Gays in the Boy Scouts
| 7. Ban Partial-Birth Abortion
| 8. Arm Commercial Pilots
| 9. Trade Promotion Authority
|10. Bar Funds for Intl. Court
|11. Authorize Force in Iraq
|12. Deny Home. Sec. Dept. Union
||Howard Berman (D)
|David Hernandez (R)
|Kelley Ross (Lib)
||Howard Berman (D)
||Howard Berman (D)
|Bill Farley (Lib)
|David L. Cossak (NL)
Prior winning percentages:
1998 (82%); 1996 (66%); 1994 (63%); 1992 (61%); 1990 (61%); 1988 (70%); 1986 (65%); 1984 (63%); 1982 (60%)
For 1992 and 1996 presidential results in the Twenty-Eighth District, please see the Almanac 2000 online. Please note that these older returns reflect district lines as they existed prior to 2002 redistricting.
- Cook Partisan Voting Index: D +25
- District Size: 78 square miles
- Population in 2000: 639,087; 99.9% urban; 0.1% rural
- Median Household Income: $40,439; 19.1% are below the poverty line
- Occupation: 26.2% blue collar; 58.0% white collar; 15.8% gray collar; 5.9% military veterans
- Race/Ethnic Origin:
0.2% Amer. Indian,
2.4% Two+ races,
55.6% Hispanic origin
- Click here for statewide demographic data.
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