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Jim Rogan learned how tough life was right from the start. The future success story always had an uphill climb.
“When my mother first brought me home, she had been negotiating the two flights of stairs of her parents’ San Francisco flat ease her whole life, but when she carried me up them that first time, she was also carrying the burden of unwed, abandoned motherhood. By the time she reached the top, she was trudging, too.”
He didn’t have a conventional childhood (his mother was a convicted felon who ended up raising four children on welfare), but he believes that background proved to be a blessing. A loving grandfather took the young Rogan under his wing, followed by a great aunt and uncle.
“People ask me, ‘How come you made it and most of the kids you grew up with didn’t make it? You didn’t have a father either.’ But the one thing I did have was a father figure — a couple of them. My grandfather died when I was seven, and then my uncle Ralph stepped in. I think I was given a substantial leg up in life because of their influence. They had no money – they just labored all their lives. But they were male figures that taught me right from wrong, and the value of work. When I meet with kids today with no father in the home, I know that every one of them will have a father figure: either biologically, or a coach, or it might be the local drug dealer. Far too many young people have been denied the advantage of a morally strong father. In my line of work, I see the effects of that in the felony courtroom each day. I’ve written about my early life because I wanted anybody who suffers from similar circumstances to know that they don’t have to let the harsh circumstances dealt to them dictate their future.
“After all, if an unremarkable kid like me could participate in some remarkable things, anybody could do it.”
It was that grit, determination and commitment to American values that propelled Rogan on to truly remarkable things, including serving as a leader in Congress during the infamous Clinton impeachment scandal.
In the late ’90s, momentum built to remove Bill Clinton from office after the Monica Lewinsky scandal led the president to wage a savage fight. Charges of perjury left Clinton vulnerable, and Rogan found himself in the improbable position of making the case for removal from office.
“It really was not until the day before the vote to impeach President Clinton that I realized it might happen,” he remembers. “I thought there was no way we had the votes; politicians are hardwired to take the path of least resistance. And a president enjoying a 75 percent approval rating makes the task all the more daunting.”
Rogan knew then that the Clinton debacle would have future impact on the way presidents manage their administrations.
“The Clinton impeachment was so rancorous that if, in the future, a president commits high crimes and misdemeanors (impeachable offenses under the Constitution), I think it will be very difficult for Congress to muster up the spine it takes for that kind of confrontation if the president still enjoys fairly favorable poll ratings.”
Ironically, it was Clinton, 20 years before, who had advised a young Jim Rogan to go into law, as a helpful path into politics. The two had met briefly in 1978.
“I dropped President Clinton a note and told him about our early encounter when I was elected to Congress,” says Rogan. “He sent back a very nice handwritten note.”
Rogan laments the toxic atmosphere that now exists in Washington, but says that history shows it is not a new phenomenon. “When I was first elected, I sought out former members in both parties and invited them to lunch. A universal complaint I heard from the old guard is that back in their days, people got along; they took trips together, they went to each other’s kids graduations.”
Now, says Rogan, members routinely complain that what Vince Foster called “the politics of personal destruction” is almost relished by key leaders.
“Former Senator Tom Eagleton sent me a letter lamenting this. He said that today Congress is all about destroying and killing each other; the atmosphere is far less civil now.”
Yet Rogan has a fascinating view of why things are the way they are in Washington.
“I don’t think it’s about a change in personal character,” he says. “I think it’s about the close margins by which both parties win majorities. When the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives for forty uninterrupted years, something of the Stockholm Syndrome sets in with the minority party. People got along and went along, content knowing that the landscape was unlikely to change.”
“When I got there after the ’94 election — I came on in ’96 — flipping just a handful of seats would reverse party control. When control of the levers of power depends on taking a few more seats to advance your party’s agenda, the game of politics becomes incredibly ruthless. That makes it much tougher to form those long-term bonds of friendship across party lines.”
It’s that type of high-stakes chaos that Rogan and others of his generation would like to see disappear, for the good of the country.
The recipe for change is simple: “Serving the cause of freedom and the rule of law instead of serving the agenda of party leaders.”