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Sparks fly in second Berman-Sherman debate

February 21, 2012 | 11:29 pm

Sparks flew  between rival Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard L. Berman during an issues-packed candidates' forum Tuesday night.

A panel of questioners  from the Jewish Journal, which organized the forum, devoted nearly  two-thirds of the 90-minute forum to questions on foreign policy, especially on Iran and  Israel.  The rest of the time went to such domestic issues as unemployment.

But the candidates,  seasoned veterans who found their homes drawn into the same San Fernando Valley congressional district during last year's redistricting, managed to lob zingers at each other while defending their positions on foreign trade agreements and efforts to halt piracy of music and movies.

The most contentious issue in the forum, held before an overflow audience of more than 500 at Temple Judea in Tarzana, concerned so-called "super PACs," through which corporations are allowed to donate unlimited amounts to  elect or defeat candidates, so long as they don't coordinate their activities with the candidates' campaigns.

Upon learning that two super PACs have formed to support Berman, Sherman began urging Berman to support a pledge  aimed at neutralizing their effect.  Berman has refused, saying he supports a constitutional amendment to ban super PACs but can't control  groups who want to independently push for his reelection.

On Tuesday, he called Sherman's pledge efforts "a gimmick" and a sign that Sherman was losing ground in the race. 

"You can't have your super PAC and eat it too," Sherman said, claiming that a similar pledge has been adopted by candidates in a  U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts. 

"I simply want this race to be decided under rules  we both agree to," Sherman said.

One of two Republicans running in the strongly Democratic 30th Congressional District, actor/businessman Mark Reed, took some swipes of his own, calling both Democrats symbols of "30 years of failed policies."

The other Republican in the race, author Susan Shelley, was excluded from the debate but showed up to hand out "goodie bags" with some campaign materials and candy.


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Photo:  U.S. Rep. Howard L. Berman, left, shakes hands with GOP candidate Mark Reed. They and Rep. Brad Sherman, center, candidates in the 30th Congressional District, held a debate Tuesday at Temple Judea in Tarzana. Credit: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times