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Berman and VICA Bury the Hatchet--Just Below the Surface

TIMES STAFF WRITER

POLITICAL COMPENSATION: During the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn.'s recent visit to the nation’s capital, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) was among four Valley-area lawmakers who greeted the group at its annual Capitol Hill luncheon.

Berman attended despite a recent run-in with the business group. In fact, he had refused VICA’s invitation to co-host the event.

The flap arose out of VICA’s growing concern about the effect of runaway workers’ compensation premiums. Although the organization is nonpartisan, it took out a full-page “hit” ad in local newspapers two days before last November’s election.

“Unless California’s workers’ compensation law is changed, your job could be the next to go,” the ad warned. “A majority of our legislators in Sacramento have allowed the workers’ compensation system to reach a crisis stage, placing your job in jeopardy.”

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The ad backed six Republican legislative candidates and targeted three Democrats for defeat. The three--whose photos appeared beneath an overlay of a circle with a line through it--were Assemblywoman Barbara Friedman of Van Nuys and Los Angeles Assemblymen Burt Margolin and Terry B. Friedman. Margolin had championed workers’ comp reforms that were opposed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

The three Democrats are close allies of Berman’s. The veteran lawmaker called VICA Chairman Benjamin M. Reznik, a friend and fellow Democrat, to complain.

“These guys played right into Wilson’s hands by calling for Burt’s defeat even though he was a leader in making massive reforms,” Berman said following his appearance at the VICA lunch. “I think they got sucked into Pete Wilson’s partisan agenda.”

VICA leaders maintained that Margolin’s measure would have led to higher costs for employers, who opposed the bill. They said the ad was not intended to be partisan but rather reflected the organization’s position on the issue. One called it “a primal scream.”

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David W. Fleming, head of VICA’s government relations committee, alluded to the differences when he introduced Berman to the 40 members and spouses over crab cakes and broccoli. But Fleming went on to praise Berman for his efforts to unify the fractious California delegation.

Berman responded in kind. “Whatever feelings I’ve had about VICA in the past, they just got better,” he said.


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