A couple of the members of the Board of the San Fernando Valley/Northeast Los Angeles Chapter of the National Organization for Women (SFV/NELA NOW and of the California League of Latin American Citizens (CALLAC) received an e-mail from a long time, well-respected San Fernando Valley Chicano activist that began, “Did i read that your group endorsed Sherman over Berman? I hope i am wrong. Yes, i realize Berman did not meet with you so i understand you held that against him.”
The rules of the Same Page/Misma Pagina Coalition do not allow us to discuss what a candidate said in their questionnaire responses to us or what they tell us in an interview without their express permission, but they do not preclude us from discussing a candidate’s non-response, so I need to set the record straight on Howard Berman, whom we expressly DID NOT ENDORSE. There was far more to that story than Berman’s simply not meeting with us.
First and foremost, Howard Berman has not given us the time of day that I can remember, and I’ve been around in Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley politics a long time….and as many know, I have just about the longest memory in the State for what politicians have done and not done….more on that later.
When Bobbi Fiedler represented the San Fernando Valley, her staff initiated contacts with us, not just the other way around when we wanted something. When Howard Berman got elected in 1982 to the House of Representatives, well, I just can’t remember any time when we ever heard from him or even got feedback when we’d contact his office. Brad Sherman’s staff for years has been far more solicitous of our views and concerns; he personally came to the National Latin Congreso in Los Angeles and specifically sought us out there several years ago, before he was ever concerned with a redistricting situation that forced him to run against a fellow incumbent.
Both Sherman and Berman’s campaigns promised to send representatives to our annual Holiday Party and Election meeting last year. In fact, both campaigns sought us out to find out where and when and to make sure that they could be represented. Sherman’s office followed through; nobody from Berman’s office showed up nor did they call to apologize after we’d already publicized that both candidates would have speakers.
Next, both candidates’ campaigns had specifically sought out the procedure for how to seek our endorsement. It starts with filling out our coalition questionnaire. Both campaigns were sent the instructions on where to download it. Additionally, our instructions point out that if they have any problems or need more information on the issues, they can feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help them with it (it’s not like a closed book timed test in high school).
Brad Sherman submitted his response. Berman never responded. In fact, we heard absolutely nothing back from his campaign. Apparently they lost interest in getting our endorsement, because, after all, they got the endorsements of Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham and a whole host of other Republican House members so they probably figured they didn’t need us.
With that record alone, why does anybody have the gall to fault us for not endorsing a candidate who was not in fact seeking our endorsement? If you don’t submit the questionnaire, you’re not asking to be endorsed. It really is that simple.
Now let’s get down to cases and records.
It’s no secret that the policy wonk for years behind Democratic Party gerrymandering schemes in California has been Howard Berman’s brother Michael and at this point, let me make the same conflict of interest disclosure publicly that I made for the Same Page/Misma Pagina interview committee. In 1978 my candidate (Peace & Freedom Party) for State Assembly in the Northeast San Fernando Valley got 4% of the vote and the Democrat lost by 2%. In 1980, I ran against ranking California Congressman James Corman who that year alone had voted for the MX Missile, the Neutron Bomb, and Draft Registration (all of which his Republican opponent opposed, as did I). Additionally, the only candidate in the race supporting the NAACP-ACLU “Together for Integrated Education” program was me. I polled almost three times as many votes as Corman needed to win, and the Berman brothers were majorly pissed because it completely upset the apple cart for their reapportionment (read gerrymandering) plan for the State of California. As far as I know, this was the only time in California history that a third party had achieved “balance of power” status in two back to back elections in the same geographical area with the ability to knock off incumbents.
Michael Berman came up with plan A and plan B for reapportionment. Normally, political parties get thrown off the ballot in America for not getting enough votes. In authoritarian countries, like the old Soviet Union, Burma, and Nazi Germany, parties get thrown off the ballot because they actually have support. Michael Berman’s plan A was throw the Peace & Freedom Party off the ballot with what Democratic Party hacks publicly called “the Jan Tucker bill” so that they could cut district lines with 1,500 vote Democratic Party margins, or else they had to use plan B in which they failed to kick PFP off the ballot and instead had to cut districts with 3,000 vote Democratic Party margins.
Howard Berman and his “gang of four” in the Assembly shoved the bill through that house with threats and coercion. There were several hold out Democrats defying the “caucus vote,” including Larry Kapiloff, Ken Meade, Sam Farr, Tom Hannigan, Mike Roos and even former Assembly Speaker Leo McCarthy. When you vote against an official “caucus” position, you can be stripped of all of your committee assignments, so it’s not something one does lightly and then only out of absolute conscience. Berman was one vote short for the bill, so he went over to Tom Hannigan and threatened him with loss of his committee assignments and twisted his arm into becoming the 41st vote for the bill.
We killed the bill in the State Senate where it never came up for a vote. We pointed out that in the entire 20th Century up till that point, no African American, Asian American, Mexican American, or Native American had wound up on the general election ballot in the four (4) California counties that have prior Voting Rights Act convictions–unless they were running on the Peace & Freedom Party ticket. If the bill passed and we won a Voting Rights Act conviction, that fifth conviction would have put California under the “pre-approval” process like the old thirteen (13) former Confederate States.
Then of course there is the history of the Berman brothers in consistently gerrymandering the San Fernando Valley to prevent any Chicano/Mexicano/Latino from getting elected to Congress….until of course when this year’s District lines were created by an independent commission that the Berman brothers couldn’t control.
Okay, that’s the personal bone I had to pick with Berman, but as I said earlier, I have a very long memory and here’s where it goes back to 1972, when Howard first got elected to the State Assembly against Charlie Conrad in the old 57th Assembly District. At that time, I was supporting Grover Howard (PFP candidate for the 57th) and Ben Spock as the PFP candidate for President. Charlie Conrad as a good Republican was supporting President Nixon.
This is quite timely as Democrat George McGovern (now lying on his death bed) thought he could at least count on the support of his own party’s nominee in the 57th Assembly District, but Berman sent out leaflets saying it was okay for people to support Nixon for President and Berman for Assembly. That’s bad enough but there’s more.
Henry Waxman was head of the Assembly Elections & Reapportionment Committee which had created an Assembly seat for Howard Berman to run in, with the geographical center of the district being Berman’s home. Safe and cozy, but alas, the State Supreme Court threw out the plan and Berman had a choice to make. A very quick choice at that.
At the time, California law required a candidate to live in the district they were going to run in for at least one year prior to filing. Howard Berman had to move into the 57th District in order to run. How do I know this? Because I was standing next to Lew McCammon of the PFP while Berman fessed up to Lew about what he had done in the candidate filing room at the old Registrar of Voters Office in Chinatown.
So Howard, inquiring minds want to know: How long did you live in the 57th District before you filed to run in it and how exactly did you get away with it?
If anybody deigns to ask why we didn’t endorse Howard Berman, he needs to answer that question before I deign to give any other answer than this one.