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ELECTIONS 26TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT : Berman Paces Steadily Toward Primary

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rep. Howard Berman was back from Washington last week, hustling through a fast-paced schedule of meetings in his Panorama City office.

The topics were varied, said Berman’s chief district aide, Fausto Capobianco, ranging from Burbank Airport noise to Lockheed’s closure to Berman’s plans for revitalizing Hansen Dam in the northeast San Fernando Valley as a recreation center.

What wasn’t on the Panorama City Democrat’s agenda in the week before Tuesday’s state primary election was the challenge posed to the entrenched congressman in the 26th District Democratic primary by conservative Democrat Scott Gaulke.

Berman has never met Gaulke, a Studio City property manager who ran unsuccessfully against Assemblyman Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles) in the 45th Assembly District in 1984. Berman has no campaign manager and no campaign headquarters, despite having $144,708 available for the race as of May 16, according to Federal Election Commission records.

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Asked what Berman was doing about the primary, Capobianco replied, “We’re wondering, what race?”

That’s a fair question in a district where Berman, 49, has coasted easily through the past four elections, receiving 70% of the vote the last time his name appeared on the ballot, in the general election in November, 1988. Berman’s opponent then, Republican G.C. (Brodie) Broderson, garnered 29.6%.

Neither of the two conservative Republicans squaring off in the GOP primary are likely to constitute a threat to Berman in this November’s general election, in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans 56.6% to 33.9%.

“There doesn’t seem to be much competition,” Capobianco said.

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Although Berman hasn’t waged an aggressive reelection campaign, Capobianco said, the congressman hardly has been inactive. It is just that the votes he’s working hardest to capture are cast on the floor of the House of Representatives instead of in the voting booth.

In recent months, Berman has exhibited his formidable political strength and power of compromise to boost the foreign aid portion of the House budget. He also introduced a bill to impose trade sanctions against Iraq after British customs officials seized chemical weapons parts on a ship bound for Iraq.

A heavyweight in Democratic politics in Washington and California, Berman sits on the House Judiciary, Foreign Affairs and Budget committees. With political ally Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), he heads the Berman-Waxman machine, a group that supports liberal Democratic causes and candidates with money and clout. He serves on the board of the Center for Law in the Public Interest, and is a member of the regional board of the Anti-Defamation League of Los Angeles.

It is a resume in sharp contrast to Gaulke’s, which underscores an 11-year alliance with political extremist Lyndon LaRouche.

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Gaulke’s campaign literature calls the Anti-Defamation League a “criminal conspiracy” that played a role in making LaRouche a “political prisoner.” LaRouche, a three-time presidential candidate, is serving a 15-year sentence in a federal prison in Virginia for defrauding the Internal Revenue Service and defaulting on more than $30 million in loans from his supporters.

A Virginia Circuit Court judge last week ruled that there is “not a shred” of evidence that LaRouche was the victim of a conspiracy by the government, the media and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, as LaRouche has contended.

Gaulke, a 33-year-old Wisconsin native who moved to California a decade ago, opposes abortion and sweeping revisions to the Clean Air Act approved by the House last month. If signed into law, the measure would extend California’s stringent auto-emission standards to the rest of the United States over two years and would further cut allowable emissions in the future. As written, it would provide $250 million to workers who lose their jobs because of new industry standards. Berman supports the measure.

But Gaulke says the Clean Air Act “is not intended to clean the air.” His campaign literature warns that the act must be seen in the context of a friendship between the United States and the Soviet Union that would weaken both countries by crippling U.S. industry at the time of Soviet perestroika .

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“I am proceeding from the standpoint that this country is in a depression. I am not the kind of Democrat who’s going to mince words,” Gaulke said in an interview.

His overall political philosophy and Berman’s, Gaulke said, are “as different as night and day.”

In the Republican primary, Roy Dahlson, who owns a wholesale flower business, and retail hardware store manager Gary Forsch hold kindred conservative political beliefs. They could have trouble rounding up votes in the liberal 26th District, which includes Pacoima, Lake View Terrace, Arleta, Panorama City, Sepulveda and Mission Hills, and parts of Sylmar, Sun Valley, Granada Hills, Northridge, Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks, Encino, North Hollywood and Studio City in the San Fernando Valley, and a small section of the Westside in Los Angeles.

Forsch’s literature is heavily punctuated by exclamation marks.

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“The Constitution says you have the right to Private Property,” he writes. “This means that a burglar or robber should not be able to sue you after he has ripped you off !”

Forsch decries “country club prisons” and urges the community to “take back the schools.” But what really riles him, according to his literature, is the concept of a national health-care system patterned after Canada’s.

“This is insane,” he writes. “National health in the hands of the government? The same people who run the Post Office, the IRS and our education system? NO WAY!”

Forsch, 39, of Sun Valley has been endorsed by the California Republican Assembly, a grass-roots conservative organization.

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In an interview, he said his conservative philosophy seems to differ little from Dahlson but that they travel in different political circles.

“None of the people that I swim around with know who he is,” Forsch said.

Dahlson boasts endorsements from GOP Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, the California Young Republicans, “all former Republican candidates for Congress in the 26th Congressional District for the past 10 years,” and former California Mother of the Year Helen Gabriel.

Dahlson, 59, is described in his campaign literature as a student of history and an avid reader. Starting with a small doughnut shop 40 years ago, the Van Nuys businessman went on to develop the largest wholesale flower business in Southern California. His literature favors capital letters over exclamation points, as in, ". . .Flag-Burning IS NOT A PROTECTED RIGHT IN OUR CONSTITUTION.”

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“Roy Dahlson believes in our First Amendment rights of ‘Freedom of Religion’ and ‘Freedom of Speech,’ however, this does not mean ‘Freedom From Religion,’ NOR DOES DAHLSON BELIEVE THAT FREEDOM OF SPEECH MEANS UNFETTERED RIGHT TO SPEAK. . . .”

Both Republicans favor capital punishment; both Democrats oppose it. Of the four candidates in the primary, only Berman supports a woman’s unrestricted right to an abortion during the first three months of pregnancy, although Dahlson states that he would “abide by the will of the people, and by current law.” Only Berman supports stricter handgun controls.

On foreign policy, the Republicans do not support removing China’s most-favored-nation trading status; the Democrats do.

A Libertarian candidate for the congressional seat, swimming pool builder Bernard Zimring of Van Nuys, is running unopposed in the primary.

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