Capitol Alert

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The political shootout of the year, at least in Southern California, is the duel between two veteran Democratic congressmen who were thrown into the same district by the independent redistricting commission, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman.

Their high-octane contest in the new 30th Congressional District has divided Los Angeles' Jewish and labor communities. As it turns out, it has also stirred the embers of a bitter, 32-year-old battle in the state Capitol over the speakership of the state Assembly.

In 1980, Berman, then a state assemblyman, tried to oust fellow Democrat Leo McCarthy, who had become speaker six years earlier. That led to a year-long conflict that eventually ended in a draw. Willie Brown -- whom McCarthy had defeated for speaker in 1974 -- succeeded his old rival, elected over Berman by McCarthy Democrats and Republicans.

Two years later, Berman segued into Congress, and he and fellow congressman Henry Waxman operated a powerful political machine that influenced Southern California politics at all levels. McCarthy went on to become lieutenant governor. He died in 2007 after masterminding fellow San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi's rise to the speakership of the House of Representatives.

As Berman now duels with Sherman, he makes much of his support from Gov. Jerry Brown, which is one allusion to the 1980 speakership battle. Brown, then serving his first stint as governor, more or less openly sided with Berman over McCarthy, which poisoned relations between the Capitol's two top figures of the era.

As the Berman-Sherman conflict has picked up steam, the latter has found a reservoir of support in San Francisco, where McCarthy's friends are busily raising money for his campaign against Berman, seeing it as payback for what happened 32 years earlier.



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