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-right‘s ether dream of removing the president from office. But when the Senate’s 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. He‘s 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, Rogan’s 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 Rogan‘s 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 Rogan’s fellow Republican David Dreier, in the neighboring 28th Congressional District, which extends from Sierra Madre through San Dimas and Pomona. In 1990, Dreier‘s somewhat more affluent and bedroomy district bore a sharp resemblance to Rogan’s, shaking out as 71 percent white, with the black-Asian-Latino split at 6, 13 and 24 percent. As in Rogan‘s district, the ethnic composition of Dreier’s 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 Dreier‘s success (besides being a longtime incumbent) is that he maintains a relatively civil profile and doesn’t 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.
Rogan‘s 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 Rogan’s 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. He‘s 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 Rogan’s two previous congressional runs and his having sponsored Armenian-friendly resolutions in the Assembly and House.
”Both individuals have been good to us,“ ANC official Alex Sardar told the Weekly, ”but we were looking for someone who would take the lead on issues. We‘ve had to prod the congressman in the past to be an advocate for us.“
A little-known fact about the 27th is that Rogan does not even enjoy the monolithic support of district Republicans. Some of this has to do with his impeachment histrionics: According to a spokesman from his campaign, Rogan has cited to them an internal poll that showed 75 percent of his district disapproved of the hearings and trial. And many in the local GOP, like Sardar, discovered Rogan to be balky when it has come to taking the initiative on local interests. In one of the more contentious of these issues, the proposed Oakmont View V housing tract, Republican homeowners found Rogan indifferent to their opposition to the development of one of Glendale’s few remaining wilderness tracts. Here Schiff pulled the rug out from under the congressman by helping to secure state funding in the Assembly for purchase of the Verdugo Mountains property from developer Lee Gregg.
But according to Mike Smith, a lifelong Republican and the founding director of the conservationist group Glendale-Crescenta VOICE, dissatisfaction with Rogan among district Republicans isn‘t confined to a few homeowners and environmentalists within the party. ”The disappointment with Jim Rogan,“ says Smith, who worked for Rogan’s first House campaign in 1996, ”is that he forgot the district as soon as he got to Washington. He wasn‘t interested in local issues because he was already thinking about the presidency. But now he’s finding out that the district has learned it can do without Jim Rogan.“
Although Rogan, perhaps displaying a nothing-to-lose-now bravado, has recently been flaunting his impeachment role, his early ads firmly set the campaign‘s direction toward the political center. His handlers emphasized Rogan’s willingness to buck popular expectations of what positions a GOP candidate would take on certain issues by backing a few gun-control measures, some version of HMO reform, and opposing the 710 freeway extension. Impeachment rancor? That‘s something that existed in the last century. Clinton bashing? The Constitution made Rogan do it. He’s even resorted to that time-tested defense against negative publicity, using children as human shields. ”If you asked Congressman Jim Rogan to pinpoint a defining moment,“ his re-election Web site wistfully quotes a puff piece from a local newspaper, ”there‘s no doubt he would say when his twin daughters came into his life. The former gang-murder prosecutor is the first to admit he has turned sentimental since becoming a parent.“
to date, the 40-year-old Schiff (whom Rogan defeated for an Assembly seat in 1994) has raised a startling $2,896,442 and spent nearly half of it. But the GOP and the far right have not abandoned Rogan to twist in the wind. Far from it: According to the latest figures on record (filed June 30) his re-election campaign has easily out-fund-raised ($4,601,722) and out-spent ($3,569,785) Schiff. (Rogan’s next-door GOP neighbor, David Dreier, has only needed to raise $479,604 to beat back his Democratic challenger, Janice Nelson.)
Both candidates‘ money arrives through the traditional pipelines, with the Republican getting most of his non-party PAC money from agribusiness (i.e., big tobacco) and telecoms (Verizon is his largest single donor), along with real estate, insurance and finance interests. Not surprisingly, Schiff’s biggest sugar daddy is organized labor, which has kicked in $252,700 for his war chest. He also benefits from the largesse of Hollywood liberals, having received substantial sums from DreamWorks SKG and such individual celebrities and execs as Michael Douglas, David Geffen, Sherry Lansing, Rob Reiner, Richard Dreyfuss, Ed Begley Jr., Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley.
Rogan‘s A-list is decidedly short: Oliver Stone and Jim Belushi. And the $93,625 he’s pulled in from Disney, the Motion Picture Association of America and other corporate-entertainment backers comes more from pragmatism than passion, the kind of protection money one expects any local industry to pony up for its district‘s incumbent congressman. What is unusual about Rogan’s donors, corporate and individual, are their return addresses: More than 32 percent of them reside outside of California, compared with 13.6 percent for Schiff and 19 percent for Dreier. (Three-term Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot, who, as a fellow impeachment manager, may be the House candidate whose campaign comes closest to resembling Rogan‘s, has garnered 19 percent of his nearly $1 million campaign fund from out-of-state contributions.)
The non-Californian provenance of Rogan’s contributors underscores the proxy-war nature of his campaign, and these backers, from the Conservative Victory Fund to Live Free or Die, and that veritable ATM of Tory candidates, the Outback Steakhouse‘s PAC, form a printout of right-wingers who, in their mellowest moments, view Clinton’s two terms as eight years of treason, espionage and witchcraft. (A huge percentage of both candidates‘ donors falls under the ”IdeologicalSingle-Issue“ heading — in fact, Schiff actually leads Rogan in this category.)
The Democrats can almost taste those six GOP seats that would give them a numerical House majority. (Although they would still need to pick up about 20 more districts to overcome the Liebercrat defections that typically plague the party during roll-call votes.) The Republicans, meanwhile, continue to wire money to Rogan and a core of other besieged candidates, praying that six brave white men can stanch the Gore tide.
Everyone knew that Rogan’s role in the impeachment process would cause him grief during his re-election campaign. No wonder a House manager‘s re-election PAC was set up in 1999 to assist vulnerable members, and no wonder that not a single manager had a prominent role at the Republican National Convention in August. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Rogan‘s 1999 House financial statement discloses a rare form of outside income — the sale of political memorabilia.