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By John Gizzi
© 2000, Human Events

PASADENA, Calif. — A visit to the crowded storefront headquarters of Rep. Jim Rogan, R-Calif., reveals almost immediately why the former prosecutor, jurist and state assemblyman is now locked in a fight for his political life — and why California’s 27th District (Glendale-Pasadena) is the site of what can truly be called the “House race of the year.”

On hand to cover Rogan’s heated contest with Democratic State Sen. Adam Schiff are a score of national journalists, among them correspondents for ABC News, the New York Times, USA Today and venerable political chronicler Jules Witcover. Jittery campaign manager Jason Roe, attempting to sandwich in interviews with “the boss,” explains that “Witcover got here earlier than expected and he’s boiling mad he couldn’t see Jim right away. Just bear with us a little longer, OK?”

As the ever-patient Rogan welcomes Witcover, volunteers ranging from students at nearby Occidental College to senior citizens who attend Calvary Baptist Church in Burbank with Rogan and wife Chris, eagerly stuff envelopes for a mailing. This is no easy chore for the loyal band known as “Rogan’s Heroes”: The Californian has a contributor list of more than 41,000, with donors hailing from all 50 states and including such notables as retired Gen. Colin Powell and best-selling author David Horowitz (at whose wedding Rogan officiated). So far, they have contributed $5 million to the congressman’s cause.

“We’ll need every penny of it, and then some,” says campaign aide Vartan Djihanian, explaining how the AFL-CIO has just financed a two-week-long $250,000 blitz on cable TV slamming Rogan for alleged inaction on Social Security, Medicare and prescription drugs for senior citizens.

In addition, Djihanian notes, “all of Hollywood seems mobilized against us — Barbra Streisand, (producers) Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, and the Warner Brothers studios are just some of those contributing to and actively raising money for our opponent.” (Even the name of Rogan’s opponent has a showbiz ring to it. Adam Schiff is the name of the district attorney portrayed by Steven Hill on TV’s popular “Law and Order” series.) In addition, Democrat Schiff, whom Rogan has branded “the No. 1 shill for trial lawyers in California,” can count on all-out support from the American Trial Lawyers Association, the California Teachers Association and the National Education Association.

Spielberg’s nightmare
And that may just be the tip of the iceberg, observes Jason Roe, as local rumors abound that Spielberg “will use his own money to launch an anti-Rogan independent expenditure in the closing weeks of the race.”

Why all the national attention to whether or not Jim Rogan wins a third term in the House? The answer is obvious: The 42-year-old Rogan became an overnight national figure last year as one of the most articulate House managers in the nationally televised impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton.

In a district that is home to Warner Brothers, Spielberg’s “Dreamworks” and NBC studios — and which Clinton has twice carried with ease — Rogan’s leadership in the impeachment scandal enraged the liberal community and made him the Republican most marked for career extinction by what Rogan himself calls “every left-wing fanatic out there.” California Democratic Chairman Art Torres set the tone when he said after the impeached Clinton’s Senate acquittal: “Jim Rogan is done. Now he is exposed as the far-right zealot he is.”

Add to his role in the impeachment the fact that Rogan won his previous two terms with just 50 percent and 51 percent of the vote, and it’s easy to see why Clinton-Spielberg & Co., smelling blood, have made replacing Rogan with Schiff (whom Rogan twice beat for an assembly seat) a national left-wing cause.

When Rogan departed for a luncheon address to a peace officers group, I grabbed a quick lunch in nearby Burbank with Larry Adamy, Pasadena contractor, Rogan constituent and generous contributor to conservative causes and candidates.

“I sure hope Jim is re-elected, especially considering the other guy,” Adamy told me. “But, I also wish Jim would talk more about conservative issues. Look, he’s talking about Social Security, education and now trigger locks for guns, for goodness sakes. Those are Democratic issues. He’s got to offer something for the base.”

When Rogan and I later sat down, I shared Adamy’s observations with him.

“You tell Larry to quit listening to Peter Jennings and ABC!” the congressman snapped. I had put a familiar face on complaints he has obviously heard before from fellow conservatives. “Hey, Social Security is going to go bankrupt someday and Democratic politicians are afraid to touch the issue and will just leave it for our grandchildren to deal with. It’s a conservative issue to address this, as I have done, and say that all workers should have the choice of participating in alternative retirement plans, as public employee unions do.”

Regarding education, Rogan recalled how he has long supported abolishing the U.S. Department of Education.

“It’s a monstrosity, but I also realize we don’t have the votes now to abolish it,” he told me, “so we try to do the next best thing and bypass the department by moving money back into local school districts through block grants and the like.”

Rogan added that his support of measures such as competency tests and merit pay for teachers is in sharp contrast to the stand of liberal Democrats like Schiff, “who just want to send money to Washington and let the bureaucrats run things. That attitude has really decimated public education and really let down poor minority kids.”

By far, the most often stated criticism of Rogan I heard from conservatives pointed to his support for trigger locks on handguns.

“Does that run afoul of my record in Sacramento and Washington of consistent support for the Second Amendment?” he replied. “I say no. I have always supported the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns with reasonable safety measures. It’s my understanding that the NRA also supports trigger locks.” Campaign manager Roe points out that many NRA members in the 27th District are walking precincts for Rogan and that “they fully realize (Schiff) is a seasoned gun-grabber and will be the poster child for Handgun Control.”

All goes back to impeachment
The following morning, Jim Rogan made a brief stop at the state GOP convention in Palm Springs. There, admirers crowded around him for autographs and pictures, and once again, the national media wanted to talk to him. His decision to mention his role in the Clinton impeachment in a TV spot for the first time was big news. The Los Angeles Times highlighted it two days earlier and ABC was clamoring for an interview. Schiff campaign manager Parke Skelton told the Times that Rogan’s bringing up impeachment “surprises me a great deal.”

“Actually, that commercial they are talking about has been running since Labor Day,” Rogan tells me. “And you know what? It’s something I wanted to do. I wanted everyone out there to know that I’m not embarrassed by being a manager. I’m proud that I did the right thing.”

Rogan recalled his career of taking sometimes controversial conservative stands — from supporting the anti-illegal immigration Proposition 187 as a freshman state legislator in 1994 to maintaining a strong pro-life record throughout his time as legislator and congressman. And in four trips to the ballot, he has never lost an election.

Now, if he wins his fifth and most grueling trip, Jim Rogan would emerge in November as a figure to be watched in state and national politics.

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