TOPICS > Politics

Rogan’s Run

February 23, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now, a political story. It’s about one of the 13 House managers who prosecuted the impeachment case against President Clinton. Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: California Congressman James Rogan was home among friends last Thursday night. The occasion was the annual Lincoln Day Dinner. For most of the 150 or so Republicans who came out, it was the first opportunity to say to the former impeachment manager, “Job well done.”

SPOKESMAN: I’m in complete support of what you’ve done.

REP. JAMES ROGAN: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

MAN IN CROWD: We’re so glad to have you. I tell you, I never been so proud in my life when I was watching you.

REP. JAMES ROGAN: Well, not everybody feels that way, but it’s nice to hear it from one who does.

MAN IN CROWD: I know that. Please believe there’s a silent majority out there.

REP. JAMES ROGAN: Right now I’d settle for a silent plurality. (Laughter)

MAN IN CROWD: Well, okay. I think tonight you’ll have that.

KWAME HOLMAN: For Rogan, this annual Republican celebration probably couldn’t have come at a better time. It had been less than a week since he and 12 other House managers failed to convince even a majority of senators to convict President Clinton on two articles of impeachment.

SPOKESMAN: Let’s have a rousing welcome for our own House manager, Jim Rogan. (Applause)

KWAME HOLMAN: Rogan was one of the lead prosecutors, and despite public opinion polls showing most Americans opposed to removing the president from office, Rogan aggressively pursued the charges.

REP. JAMES ROGAN: The biggest silver lining, I think, in all of this is that at a time when many Americans over the last several years have become dispirited and dejected about politics, about government, and about the covenant that those of us who serve in government make with the voters, now have totally different perspective — people who now believe they can have faith in government again because they know there are people who will go into politics and will do what is right, based on their reading of the Constitution and not the latest polls. It may not always be popular, but at the end of the day, history shows us, people always respect us, and I would much rather have my integrity than have my office any day. (Applause)

KWAME HOLMAN: Rogan indeed may have difficulty keeping his office. Unlike the other House managers, who also were criticized for prosecutorial zeal, Rogan appears likely to suffer politically from the impeachment process. His California district, the once-solidly Republican 27th, grew increasingly Democratic in recent years. It includes almost all of Pasadena, an ethnically diverse city with a large African-American population that also has seen a steady infusion of Asians and Hispanics. The district takes in Burbank, best known as the center of California’s entertainment industry, many of whose moguls rank among President Clinton’s most loyal supporters. And it includes Glendale, no longer a sleepy suburb, but the third-largest city in Los Angeles County. It is upscale, overwhelmingly white, with a large Armenian community. James Rogan barely won reelection here last November, with less than 51% of the vote. That was early in the impeachment process, when Rogan still was a fairly unrecognizable member of the House Judiciary Committee.

REP. JAMES ROGAN: Members of the Senate —

KWAME HOLMAN: However, the high-profile role he assumed during the senate trial prompted strong reactions from his constituents 3,000 miles away.

JEFF LENNAN, Rep. Rogan’s District Director: We’ve seen the gambit of very angry folks against impeachment and just incredibly supportive folks as to what he’s doing.

KWAME HOLMAN: Jeff Lennan manages Congressman Rogan’s district office in Pasadena. He says the staff took 800 to 1,000 phone calls a week during the impeachment process and received as many as 400 e-mails a day.

WOMAN IN OFFICE: These were all people who had seen him, and just wanted to – you know, it was obvious which way it was going, and they just wanted to say thank you.

JEFF LENNAN: Once the verdict had come in from the senate, it changed decidedly to pro, supporting Jim, thanking Jim. They had seen articles in the “New York Times,” for instance, where it leaked from the White House that they were targeting specifically the House managers, and we got just a flood of support.

KWAME HOLMAN: But last week, in the wake of the impeachment trial, “U.S. News and World Report” raised questions about Rogan’s political future, while “Time” Magazine included Rogan on its “Winners and Losers” list among the losers. And speculation Rogan might suffer consequences for trying to remove a popular president wasn’t just inside-the-beltway talk. When he came home last week for the congressional recess, he found the “Glendale Daily News” and the “Pasadena Star News” asking those same questions.

REP. JAMES ROGAN: I didn’t run for congress to be an impeacher — probably wasn’t a very good one at that. But I think I did a good job in congress and I am going to keep trying to do the same thing.

KWAME HOLMAN: Rogan made several public appearances in his district during the recess.

REP. JAMES ROGAN: We have a couple more chairs, everybody. Come on, sit down.

KWAME HOLMAN: In South Pasadena, Rogan met with homeowners whose neighborhood lies in the path of a proposed extension of the Long Beach Freeway.

REP. JAMES ROGAN: These houses would be razed. They would be knocked down. All of these families would be displaced. If there’s one thing we don’t need in Southern California right now, it’s another freeway, quite frankly.

KWAME HOLMAN: The crowd generally was supportive of the way Rogan juggled his constituent duties and impeachment responsibilities.

STEVE GARCIA: I think he’s done a good job for our district, first of all. I think we’re fairly like-minded in our beliefs, in terms of what he has done on the impeachment. I think he has done a very good job.

WOMAN IN CROWD: We watched you on TV. You were great.

REP. JAMES ROGAN: I keep waiting for my residual checks but none of them have come in.

KWAME HOLMAN: But we also found around the district some evidence Rogan’s support was slipping.

MAN: I mean, he was selected. He was kind of forced into it.

WOMAN: No, I think he wanted to do it. He wanted to be right in the middle of it. So that he had the visibility. Of course.

KWAME HOLMAN: This group of neighbors in La Crescenta said James Rogan’s deep involvement in the senate trial made impeachment a local issue, and in the eyes of Republicans Mike and Diane Brewster, that only enhanced Rogan’s appeal.

MIKE BREWSTER: I believe he has the same conservative views that I have: Lower taxes, less government. I like the way he went after the impeachment trial. It took a lot of nerve to do that.

DIANE BREWSTER: He was in there fighting for what he thought was right, and that’s what represents me. I guess I have old-fashioned values and morals, and all these things that go along with what I think life should be like.

KWAME HOLMAN: But other neighbors said they were appalled by Rogan’s performance during the impeachment trial and will hold it against him in the next election.

NEIGHBOR: Absolutely, absolutely. Waste of time. This is it.

NEIGHBOR: It’s like he’s gone off on his own thing, his own journey, instead of paying attention to what is going on and bringing us information back and being our liaison.

KWAME HOLMAN: Karen Jorgenson is a Republican who voted for James Rogan last November but told us she never will again. Her neighbor, Maureen Palacios, is a Democrat who also voted for Rogan, but she too said never again.

MAUREEN PALACIOS: He wanted to be the Republicans’ cheerleader and keep going and going and going and wasn’t listening to what his constituents were saying to him to stop, stop this foolishness and wastefulness and get back to what the business of governing is. And so he didn’t do that. He decided to do what he wanted to do, and he said, “Forget it. I don’t care what the district says, I’m just going to keep going, and voting my conscience” and I think that that was wrong.

KAREN JORGENSEN: My sense is he let Washington and the Republican Party go to his head – I mean, that he’s pushing for something to get visibility, to, you know, do things that aren’t necessarily what we want to have happen, and he’s not paying attention to us back here.

KWAME HOLMAN: Rogan and his district staff say they’re aware of such sentiments, and with the impeachment trial now behind them, they’re able to turn their full attention to constituent service.

SPOKESMAN: The liaison will work on the appeal with the appeals board for you. See, that’s where we were coming from and you didn’t see that scenario in the letter that we sent you.

JEFF LENNAN: I’m looking forward to having Jim’s 100% attention on things that he’s had to split his time with the trial. Of course we always want the congressman working on all of our projects more than our staff.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Karen Jorgensen says the damage is done.

KAREN JORGENSEN: I think it’s a little late. He’s not paying attention to the old-time Republican activists in Glendale. I’m at a lot of community activities. You know, I do a lot of work with the Chamber and Red Cross. I have run a business here in Glendale. We never see him. We see his, you know, his office staff, and they’re basically teenie-boppers. I mean, they’re not paying attention to what we need. If we see them at an event, they are clustered together talking rather than paying attention to what we need in our district.

WOMAN: I’m not going to vote for him again.

WOMAN: That’s why you’re on that side of the fence and we’re on this side of the fence.

MAN: We agree to disagree.

KWAME HOLMAN: On Saturday morning, several local Democratic Party officials and several dozen volunteers gathered in a Pasadena community center to begin planning for the year 2000 elections. Their number one priority: Remove James Rogan from congress.

TOM HIGGINS: Jim is wrong. Jim is just flat wrong for this district, and Jim is wrong on the issues.

KWAME HOLMAN: Tom Higgins directed last year’s campaign for a Democratic candidate who came within three percentage points of defeating James Rogan.

TOM HIGGINS: It doesn’t matter what your issue is, you can throw it to me and I can point out that Jim is wrong: Education, the environment, health care — you know, local issues. The guy can’t even step up to campaign finance reform. The list goes on and on and on.

KWAME HOLMAN: Although this was a meeting of local democratic officials, state party chairman Art Torres stopped by to rally the volunteers.

ART TORRES: I’m not against Jim Rogan because he voted one way or another on impeachment, I’m against him because he’s out of synch with the people in my former district that I represented for 20 years in South Pasadena. He’s out of synch with the people in this district. And when a representative is out of synch with representing the people that pay his salary, he ought– or she ought– not to be in that office. (Applause)

KWAME HOLMAN: Ralph McKnight, from South Pasadena, was one of the Democratic volunteers who attended Saturday’s meeting.

RALPH McKNIGHT, Democratic Activist: What a number of us are talking about is to make certain that on as frequent a basis as possible-maybe perhaps monthly or bimonthly– having rallies, or all kinds of different events and activities, including voter registration and voter registration workshops and voter education clinics, and things like that, to make certain that from this day on, people are reminded on a daily, weekly, and monthly, bi-monthly basis about what the Republicans did during the impeachment, and especially about what Jim Rogan has done, and especially about the way he’s voted on issues.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats say they can win enough congressional seats in California alone in the year 2000 elections to enable them to retake the House of Representatives and James Rogan’s seat is a good place to start. But Rogan says he isn’t worried about becoming a target.

REP. JAMES ROGAN: I think I’ve been on the ballot here in this district about seven times. And every time I run I hear this I was their target in 1994. I was their target in 1996. I was their target in 1998. I’m their target in 2000. Maybe I’m just getting older or they are getting more shrill. But I just expect I’ll hear it every couple of years for as long as I’m in politics, and, in fact, when they stop saying it, I’m going to start worrying that maybe I haven’t been doing my job.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, some local Republicans already are urging Rogan not to run for reelection in the year 2000. They say the notoriety he gained in the impeachment process makes him a viable candidate for a statewide race, the United States senate.