By Congressional Quarterly
Capps, a religion professor who once wrote a book warning about the dangers he saw in an increased religious presence in politics, survived a life-threatening car accident in 1996 to succeed in his repeat effort to cast Republican Andrea Seastrand as too conservative for this mainline, coastal district.
Capps' liberal views may at times leave him out of step with his constituents. He favors increased protection of the environment, opposed the new law designed to discourage same-sex marriages, and has opposed a state ballot proposition to deny illegal immigrants access to most government services.
Critiquing the welfare overhaul law enacted by the 104th Congress, Capps declared during the campaign, "Changes have to be made, but I wouldn't eliminate programs that are the reason we have government -- to help those families and individuals that can't help themselves."
The district has been held by Republicans since World War II; the burden Capps will operate under in seeking re-election was not made any lighter by his committee assignments. Making a splash on the International Relations and Science committees is no mean feat for any freshman. Capps is an expert on the Vietnam War, though, and the district's Vandenberg Air Force Base is a leading site of space research.
Capps lost to Seastrand by fewer than 1,600 votes when the 22nd was open in 1994 and was encouraged to make an encore run by Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska (Capps' home state). Kerrey, a wounded veteran, shared teaching duties one semester for Capps' class on the Vietnam War -- a course that became famous as the subject of a profile by CBS' "60 Minutes."
Before coming to Congress, Capps had taught philosophy at the University of California's Santa Barbara campus since 1964. He was a pioneer not only in the academic study of the Vietnam conflict, but in conflict resolution as well.
He said during the campaign that he would like to see Congress run more like a forum, with more close consultation with experts on given issues.
Two months after winning the 1996 Democratic nomination without opposition, Capps and his wife were injured when a drunk driver crossed over into their lane and hit them head on. Capps' life was threatened, but he was able to recover from head, arm and leg injuries.
"I never want to forget what it's like to go through the world in a wheelchair," said Capps at a news conference at his rehabilitation center in July 1996. "I would never wish for a car accident like this. But I have learned from it. . . . Love and caring for one another is what is at the core of what links us."
He conceded that the accident, which was the center of much media attention locally, was a boon for him politically.
Capps said the experience made him even more ardent in his opposition to GOP attempts to slow the growth of Medicare. Contending that Democrats have "been properly chastened about the role of government" since their attempts to boldly remake the nation's health care infrastructure during the 103rd Congress, Capps sees efforts to increase general access to health insurance as his top first-term priority.
He can be counted on to resist pressures to cut domestic programs such as Head Start and student loans.
Although Seastrand received some support from business groups, their efforts were not as visible as high-level independent expenditure campaigns from labor unions, environmental organizations and supporters of abortion rights who rushed to Capps' aid. Their combined efforts were worth an estimated $1 million to Capps' cause.
A Seastrand campaign ad that criticized Capps' opposition to capital punishment appeared to backfire. The ad stated that Capps was the only person aside from Richard Allen Davis to be "disappointed" when Davis was sentenced to death in a Northern California courtroom during the campaign. Davis had gained nationwide notoriety when he was convicted of murdering a 12-year-old girl.
© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
California - 24th District
Brad Sherman (D-Calif.)
Born: Oct. 24, 1954, Los Angeles, Calif.
Education: U. of California, Los Angeles, B.A. 1974; Harvard U., J.D. 1979.
Occupation: Accountant; lawyer.
Political Career: California State Board of Equalization, 1991- 97.
Capitol Office: 1524 Longworth Bldg. 20515; 225-5911.
By Congressional Quarterly
Sherman, a self-described "recovering nerd," loves to delve into the minutiae of policy questions. But he has a keen enough sense of humor to be able to pull back and see the big picture.
After spending six years on the California Board of Equalization, which implements sections of the state's tax code, Sherman joked that he was running for Congress because it was the only job held in lower public esteem than tax collector.
He intends to hew closely to district interests, from helping to resolve a ZIP Code dispute, to steering the Santa Monica Mountain National Recreational Area to completion.
His district is home to many Jews and Armenians. Sherman, who got a seat on the House International Relations Committee, favors moving the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and would like more pressure put on Turkey to acknowledge its historic crimes against Armenians. He would have China do more to clean up its human rights record in return for most-favored-nation trading status.
On domestic trade, Sherman believes that the federal government has for too long ignored tax barriers to trade between states. He wants Congress to try to persuade or require the states to harmonize their tax laws.
He was not against tweaking out-of-state companies when it served California interests, however. To help Golden State manufacturers in 1993, he helped rewrite the state tax code so that companies from other states selling products in California were dunned more heavily than companies that employ Californians to make their products.
Sherman will support tough measures on immigration, advocating a tamper-proof worker identification card. He disagrees with the approach taken by neighboring Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly, who offered an amendment during the 104th Congress to deny public schooling to illegal immigrant children. But Sherman would like to see improved efforts to seal the U.S.-Mexico border and wants the federal government to reimburse Los Angeles County for expenditures on immigrant services.
On most domestic issues, Sherman, who got a seat on the Budget Committee, is likely to vote in line with his Democratic brethren. He favors balancing the budget, but will resist attempts to cut the Environmental Protection Agency, student loans or Medicare.
Sherman will come down on the liberal side of certain social questions, supporting abortion rights and Medicaid funding of the procedure. Besides favoring gun control measures such as the ban on certain assault-style weapons, Sherman wants a ban on sales of the cheap handguns known as Saturday night specials. He also favors increased federal regulation of tobacco.
Sherman got his start in politics stuffing envelopes as a child for Democratic Rep. George E. Brown Jr., a longtime family friend. Sherman sewed up the backing of most area Democrats before the primary -- including the endorsement of retiring 10-term Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson. Sherman's willingness to finance his own campaign -- he eventually spent nearly $400,000 -- helped him easily outpace six challengers in the primary.
He faced a tougher battle against Republican Rich Sybert, a toy company executive and former gubernatorial aide who had held Beilenson below 50 percent in 1994. Sybert also opened his own pocketbook widely and, like Sherman, fashioned himself as a moderate.
But Sybert handed Sherman a good deal of ammunition with conservative opinion columns he had written for the Pasadena Star. He also got into trouble by claiming the endorsement of retired Gen. Colin L. Powell before he had it.
Sherman accused Sybert of illegally coordinating an attack campaign in which an independent group published leaflets characterizing Sherman as running at the behest of "East Coast Labor Bosses." In the end, Sherman's own lengthy direct mail pieces lent him an air of substance. He also benefitted from a Democratic voting trend in the district, which went heavily for President Clinton.
© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
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