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Berryhills' tactic just like dad's

SACRAMENTO -- Tom and Bill Berryhill aren't the kind of guys who need to outdo dad.

The Republican brothers seem intent on modeling their own political careers after the one their father, the late Clare Berryhill, led in the 1970s and '80s.

That means taking their conservative, ag-oriented priorities to Sacramento but being flexible enough to build relationships with Democrats.

"Unless you become friends, it's really hard to find a place where you agree," said Tom Berryhill, a second-term Republican Assemblyman representing the Modesto-centered 25th District. "It's really hard to stiff a friend."

"It's what's missing up here," added Bill Berryhill, a freshman GOP lawmaker from Ceres whose 26th Assembly District stretches from Turlock to Stockton.

Clare Berryhill, a one-time state senator and secretary of Food and Agriculture, was well-known for keeping friends across the political spectrum. Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown stood out on the left; Republicans George Deukmejian and Richard Nixon were friends on the right.

Clare Berryhill's sons are the first brothers to be elected to the same legislative house at the same time since Los Angeles Democrats Ralph and Clayton Dills won seats in the Assembly between 1942 and 1948.

Having two brothers in the Legislature at the same time is rare, though another set from Southern California is serving now with Democrats Ron Calderon in the Senate and Charles Calderon in the Assembly.

The Berryhills are conservative, gregarious wine-grape growers looking for partnerships with Democrats to advance their goals. They show up at Democratic events in Sacramento and try to get past ideological differences between the parties. Supporters describe them as "practical."

Tom Berryhill had a successful first term, in which he brought Democrats on board for a bill aimed at fighting metal theft. Bill Berryhill served for 11 years on the Ceres Unified School District board of trustees, covering a period in which the district grew rapidly by adding six schools.

Demo Galgiani an ally

"They're engaging. They're very open," said Joy Madison, chief executive of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed both Berryhills. "They definitely have a history with the Legislature with their dad. They watched a pro. Their dad was really excellent at creating relationships."

One ally is Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, chairwoman of the Assembly's Agriculture Committee. She and Tom Berryhill consistently work together on agricultural issues, such as efforts to get more water flowing to San Joaquin Valley farmers.

"The three of us each have a district that has individual farmers who are not able to plant their crops because they don't have sufficient water supply," Galgiani said. "We also have constituents who are worried that the delta won't be protected, so we feel that our contributions to the discussions on water will be very important."

Galgiani stays close with the Berryhills because of their regional interests, a relationship that can help them moderate disagreements between their parties. She jokingly calls herself their "adopted sister."

"When Tom and I were first candidates, we agreed that if we both were to win, we'd work together," she said. "In the era of term limits, the time that we're here is so short that we really need to be able to count on each other and watch out for our districts together."

The state's prolonged drought has the Berryhills sensing an opportunity to press for either more water storage projects or adjustments to deliver more water to farms. They're looking for support from labor groups that want to get people to work during the recession.

"We need it to stay dry," Tom Berryhill said. "Crisis is the only way we can move anything here."

Keith Smith, an associate professor of political science at the University of the Pacific, said it's hard to explain how brothers would win elections at the same time other than "fortuitous circumstances," such as Assembly seats opening simultaneously.

Using political lineage

The Berryhills benefit from having politics in the family. That lineage gives them a front-row seat to learn how to raise money, carry a message and win a race.

"It's helpful that you learn you can make a difference if you work hard enough and navigate the system," said Ceres Mayor Anthony Cannella, a Republican who supports both Berryhills. His father, Sal Cannella, served in the Assembly from 1990 to 1996.

The name doesn't hurt, either, Smith said.

"The main advantage is electoral," he said. "It has to do with name recognition on the part of voters. They're used to voting for people with that name, and when they go in the voting booth and they see a ballot with a familiar name, they're more willing to vote for the person."

Tom and Bill Berryhill say having a sibling in office pays off after the election, too. Most of all, it gives each one someone he can trust at the end of the day.

They tease each other that their wives wouldn't let them share a condo once they won their elections last fall. Instead, they have separate residences in Sacramento.

"You let your hair down and we'd be talking till midnight every night," Tom Berryhill said.

It doesn't take much to bring out a little more fraternal ribbing.

"I tell everyone Tom's the older brother. He taught me baseball. He taught me basketball. I'm going to teach him hardball," Bill Berryhill said.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at or 578-2366.