Known as an avid collector of political memorabilia, GOP Congressman James Rogan must surely appreciate the irony of his 2000 campaign buttons and bumper stickers having already acquired a certain historical cachet. The reason for their unexpected value is simple: His 27th District re-election bid against Democratic state Senator Adam Schiff is becoming one of the most hotly contested and expensive races for a House seat ever, reflecting its symbolic and strategic importance to the two parties. As funding for the Rogan-Schiff clash approaches the $10 million mark, both camps are shocked -- shocked! -- by the obscene amounts of money irrigating their campaigns.
The 43-year-old, two-term congressman is the apostate Democrat who rose to national prominence as the most zealous and partisan of all the zealous and partisan Republican managers working the Clinton impeachment trial. During those long, acrimonious months, Rogan became a hero in the hard-rights ether dream of removing the president from office. But when the Senates rejection of the charges unceremoniously pulled the plug on this crusade, Rogan, whom MSNBC had only three years before named one of the Top 10 politicians for the next century, suddenly stood exposed to Democratic retribution. Hes an irresistible target of opportunity: Not only would his defeat be sweet revenge for the Democrats, it could help them recapture the House.
Working in their favor is the fact that the 27th sits on shifting demographic sands that make Rogan especially vulnerable. Once part of a white-conservative Transvaal stretching from the San Gabriel Valley through Orange County, Rogans Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena district is now home to many Latino and Asian immigrants, and can no longer be automatically considered Republican territory. The 1990 census showed the 27th to be 71 percent white, with blacks, Asians and Hispanics (some of whom are listed as Caucasian), respectively, numbering 8, 11 and 20 percent. But its 1996 turnout at the polls gave Clinton 49.1 percent of the vote to 40.5 percent for Bob Dole, revealing a district in flux -- a fact that would be confirmed by Rogans slender 50.7 percent victory margin in the 1998 election; since then, the district has tilted even more to the center, with registered Democrats today outnumbering Republicans 139,905 to 117,945.
Race does not always determine a race, however, a fact verified by the re-election contest of Rogans fellow Republican David Dreier, in the neighboring 28th Congressional District, which extends from Sierra Madre through San Dimas and Pomona. In 1990, Dreiers somewhat more affluent and bedroomy district bore a sharp resemblance to Rogans, shaking out as 71 percent white, with the black-Asian-Latino split at 6, 13 and 24 percent. As in Rogans district, the ethnic composition of Dreiers 28th has also changed dramatically over the last decade with White Non-Hispanics accounting for 31 percent of the population and Latinos, 44 percent. (Outnumbered by Republicans 49 percent to 41 percent in 1992, registered Democrats in the 28th today enjoy a slight edge on the GOP and put Clinton over Dole by a 45.3-to-44.1 percent margin.)
Today the 27th has become a GOP Alamo, yet the 28th remains the kind of safe neighborhood where, politically speaking, Republicans can still leave their doors unlocked at night. The key to Dreiers success (besides being a longtime incumbent) is that he maintains a relatively civil profile and doesnt exhale the sour-breathed belligerence that Rogan does. This, above everything else, explains why the 10-term Dreier is backstroking to an easy re-election while polls show Rogan fighting for his life.
Rogans impeachment performance not only revealed to his constituents a fanatical devotion to wrought-iron conservatism, it also confirmed how thin-skinned and malevolent he can be. (Think Robert Ryan in Bad Day at Black Rock.) As he memorably replied to one White House attorney during the impeachment, I believe the appropriate legal response to your request is that it is none of your damn business what the other side is going to put on.
The evidence has always been there, though: Besides Rogans passion for traditional Boer projects (school vouchers, creation science, hermetically sealed borders), as a state assemblyman he co-sponsored a notorious bill mandating the public paddling of young graffiti vandals. Hes never seemed particularly interested in the impression his statements might have on minority voters. I asked them why they would take the risks they did to come over, a Schiff flier quotes him as telling the Burbank Leader in 1994. A number of them said they like the women in California. Some said their pregnant girlfriends were over here already.
Predictably, such remarks routinely earn him zeroes for conduct from groups like the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda and the National Organization for Women, but he has also alienated the important Armenian National Committee (ANC) -- an ominous development in a district where 20,000 voters bear Armenian surnames. The ANC, in fact, has switched its allegiance from the former impeachment manager to Adam Schiff -- despite having backed Rogans two previous congressional runs and his having sponsored Armenian-friendly resolutions in the Assembly and House.