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Berman Sees Trouble for Democrats in Wilson’s Bid for Governor in ’90

Times Political Writer

Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) said Friday that he is concerned that the Democrats might not be able to win back the California governorship in 1990 even though he once thought the prospects were good.

Berman, one of his party’s better political strategists, told reporters at a breakfast meeting in Los Angeles: “We were in wonderful shape if we had to go up against (Republican Gov. George) Deukmejian or against one of their second-tier candidates. But the combination of Proposition 73, which rewrote campaign contribution laws, and U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson’s gubernatorial candidacy is going to make it very difficult.”

Wilson, just reelected to a second term in the Senate, announced last month that he will run for governor in 1990. In the minds of some, Wilson not only has a more attractive record than Deukmejian on so-called quality-of-life issues--making him a tougher opponent for Democrats--he has been assured by Republican fund-raisers that he will have all the money he needs to run for governor.

Sees Another Problem

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And that speaks to the other problem Berman sees: The new state campaign law, passed by the voters last year as Proposition 73.

The new law limits contributions to $1,000 per individual donor per fiscal year. Previously, there was no limit on what an individual could give to a candidate for state office.

Berman and others believe that the old rules favored Democrats, who for years have had a number of wealthy backers who could write big checks to augment the small sums collected from the party’s working-class base.

Similarly, organized labor gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to some candidates in lump sums. Now, labor groups are limited to $1,000 and $5,000 contributions, depending on the nature of the organizations, making it more difficult to round up the aggregate amounts labor once donated.

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Favors Republicans

The new rules, Berman argued Friday, favor the Republicans because, historically, they have had a large group of upper-middle-class donors and business people who can write $1,000 checks.

The first big campaign dinner for Wilson, for example, is scheduled for late May and is expected to pull in $1 million at $1,000 per plate. The first dinner for Democratic Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, who is running for governor, pulled in less than $500,000 earlier this week in donations of $500 a plate.

Berman said he saw the Democrats’ problems in winning the governorship as similar to their problems in recapturing the White House: “We have to find candidates who have not taken some of the positions I have taken.”

He was referring to his liberal record on the death penalty and gun control, both issues that hurt Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, the Democrats’ 1988 presidential nominee.

Move to the Middle

Although he is from the party’s liberal side, Berman has become concerned enough about the Democrats’ electoral prospects to join the Democratic Leadership Council, a more conservative group of Southerners and others who are trying to move the party more toward the middle.

On another matter, Berman said that while “I would lead the charge” to keep abortion as a matter of individual choice, he had been impressed with the dedication of “the committed minority” of anti-abortion activists, some of whom have been trying to shut down clinics in Southern California this week.

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Berman said that if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973, “you will not see Congress legislating on that because too many of my colleagues are fearful of the consequences.”


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