By Hillel Aron
When California Congressman Howard Berman was first elected to congress, Merlin Froyd wasn't even born.
That's the poor guy the Republican Party found to run against Berman. He's a 27-year-old San Fernando Valley car salesman whose name implies a magician or psychotherapist.
Born and raised on a farm in Bemidji, Minnesota (population 13,000), he moved to L.A. in 2001 and got a job at Sunrise Ford on Lankershim Blvd. His press release describes his rise there as "meteoric" -- to sales manager in about three years.
To say that Froyd is an underdog is like saying the ocean is wet. It's not just that Berman has raised almost $2 million while Froyd has one staffer -- a campaign manager who spends much of her time holding a sign on the street.
And it's not just that Berman chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, while Froyd sells cars.
The real kicker for Froyd is that the California 28th's electorate is 17 percent Republican.
Using gerrymandering, incumbents draw bizarrely-shaped state legislative and congressional districts so that they can never lose.
By drawing squiggly lines around voters, with help from computer programs, the incumbents toss out voters from the other party and voters from the "wrong" ethnicity.
Instead of voters choosing their politicians, California politicians choose their voters. It's been called a massive threat to democracy. Elections (like those for Congress tomorrow) are fixed long before Election Day.
In California in 2001, all of the voting districts were gerrymandered by for-hire mapmaker Michael Berman, Howard Berman's brother.
Michael, for a cool $1.2 million, drew the lines around voter groups so that virtually every Democratic and Republican incumbent in California could not be voted out of office.
Berman not only stacked his brother's district with Democrats, he also made sure that 100,000 Latino voters were moved next door, in order to reduce the threat of a primary challenge to his brother by any promising Latino Democrat.
Remember, gerrymandering is about protecting sitting incumbents, and screwing the voters out of any choice.
Proposition 20 on the ballot in California Tuesday would end this practice. Proposition 27 would let it continue.
Howard Berman, along with other prominent California Democratic incumbents, have poured money into protecting their cozy little system. Berman gave $10,000 to Prop. 27, and his buddy Haim Saban lent $2 million.
"It shows a complete lack of integrity, says Froyd. "You should able to represent the people without having to design a district just so you win time and time and time again."
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Froyd's candidacy is a study in the domino effect that gerrymandering sets in motion. The party that has been wiped out of a district ends up putting forth a candidate who has no money and no campaign and no experience and can't win.
In other words, it's all set up to give voters zero choice on Election Day.
And the incumbents, whether Democrat or Republican, can get away with anything in office because no other party can win in that district.
Howard Berman could basically shoot a hobo on live television and still get re-elected.