By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Republican Congressman James Rogan, who currently serves as one of the 13 House managers presenting the impeachment case against Bill Clinton, has never let the troubles of others stand in the way of his own advancement.
Rogan’s first elected office, a seat in the state Assembly, opened up when his friend and mentor Pat Nolan pleaded guilty to three bribery charges. The guilty pleas notwithstanding, Rogan said he believed Nolan was the innocent victim of a frame-up at the hands of Democrats. Then, when Nolan went to prison, Rogan jumped in to fill the void.
Two years later, House Speaker Newt Gingrich determined that 12-term Republican Congressman Carlos Moorhead lacked the requisite blood lust for partisan politics and began denying him meaningful committee seats. Moorhead took the hint and chose not to run again, extending his blessing to Rogan’s next step up. Rogan was promptly named one of Gingrich’s assistant majority whips, assigned to count votes and keep the party corraled, and appointed to a highly desirable seat on the Commerce Committee.
Even Sonny Bono’s death was a boon to Jim Rogan. When the freshman congressman skied into a tree instead of around it, he left a vacancy on the powerful Judiciary Committee — a spot Rogan was appointed to fill.
There was one promotion Rogan won without having to step over a corpse. He did, however, have to reject ideological principles he’d been touting for years. In 1990, at the age of 33, he went from being a Los Angeles County prosecutor to becoming the youngest Municipal Court judge in the state. Some cynics say that wouldn’t have happened if — 18 months earlier, during the Bush-Dukakis presidential race — young Democrat Rogan hadn’t been very publicly reborn as a Republican. His sudden conversion was announced in a press conference at a state-party convention, with then-Senator Pete Wilson and the Republican state chairman at his side. This led to a congratulatory correspondence with Ronald Reagan himself, which was later released to the media. Soon thereafter, Governor George Deukmejian appointed Rogan to the bench.
Rogan’s 27th Congressional District includes the neighboring cities of Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, for decades strongholds of conservative Republicanism. As an assemblyman, he represented much the same district. Back then, regardless of age, race, party or means, few left one of Rogan’s Town Hall sessions feeling that the man was in office for any reason other than to crush the power of special interests, bring common sense to the government and put an end to narrowly partisan politics. Rogan liked to tell crowds of his deep respect for Willie Brown, former Democratic speaker of the Assembly. "He’s smart and he has integrity, and I don’t care what party he’s from," Rogan said. (Of course, this didn’t stop Rogan from later ridiculing his campaign opponents for being "pawns" of the liberal Willie Brown.)
Rogan audiences are routinely made privy to insider anecdotes that reveal the seedier sides of public office. "The average day a member of the Assembly works on the state’s business isn’t more than three or four hours long," Rogan told listeners at one meeting. "The rest of the day is spent on the phone in rented offices or apartments near the Capitol, trying to raise money for the next election." And voters were impressed by his candid admission during a re-election race: "I am part of the problem." Time after time, the electorate has cheered Rogan’s pledge to draft new laws and policies regulating such behavior, and persuade — or coerce — his colleagues to sign on.
However, the real gut-grabber of Rogan’s Assembly stint came when he took up the cause of the "paddling bill," a call for graffiti vandals to receive 10 whacks as punishment for defacing property. Although his Assembly colleagues ultimately rejected the idea, no other proposal would gain him as much press.
When Jim Rogan was still a kid, he began amassing political memorabilia, from campaign buttons and posters to public and personal correspondence. His collection, representing more than 200 years of American democracy, has grown to mythic proportions, and has served as dΓ©cor in every public office he’s tenanted.
So when local pundits were trying to predict whether Rogan would leave his barely warm seat in the Assembly to run for Congress in 1996, the consensus was that he couldn’t resist a chance to follow in the footsteps of his heroes and icons. In addition to bringing the artifacts of history to his desk, he’d bring his desk to the very sources of the history he’d studied and revered.
Early in Rogan’s congressional term, few of his constituents bothered to notice that he was not practicing what he had been preaching — even though the House voting record of the guy who had talked so much about "reaching across the aisle" was ranked 100 percent favorable by the Christian Coalition, while scoring a zero with the American Civil Liberties Union. In Congress, Rogan spoke out in favor of school-voucher programs, meanwhile deriding the "Patients’ Bill of Rights" as the "Trial Lawyers Bill of Rights."
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