The Magazine

Rogan's Run

In an uphill battle, the House impeachment manager courts his constituents

Oct 9, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 04 • By MATTHEW REES
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Rogan cheerfully acknowledges his uphill struggle. "The race is neck-and-neck," he says, "and I feel great about that." Rogan's standing has improved dramatically since the days just after impeachment. In March, when he and Schiff were on the ballot together in California's open primary, he received 47.3 percent of the total vote. And though Schiff finished with one percent more, Rogan was in clear striking distance.

But complicating Rogan's task is his opponent's veneer of moderation. A 41-year-old former prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office and a self-proclaimed New Democrat, Schiff was elected to the state Senate in 1996.

He claims to have carved out a record of "bipartisan workmanship," sponsoring bills that a Republican governor, Pete Wilson, signed. And during a recent candidates' forum, held at Pasadena City College, Schiff issued a self-serving plea for more civil politics: "We cannot continue to put people in Congress who believe that political courage simply consists of most belligerently attacking the other side."

This is a backdoor way of criticizing Rogan, whom he described to me as "among the most bitterly partisan members of Congress." He says he's less offended by Rogan's role in impeaching and prosecuting the president than he is by the congressman's "contempt" for those who disagree with him. Schiff has not, however, echoed the liberal line that Clinton's actions were purely private and didn't merit public scrutiny: "He should have been censured in the very strongest terms."

Rogan, though doing little to advertise his impeachment activities, has no regrets about his involvement. "I am more proud to have been a House manager," he told me, "than of anything I have ever done professionally in my life." As for his thoughts about Schiff, he doesn't mince words: "a less than mediocre state senator," "the teachers' union's biggest shill," and a "weasel mouth." What's more, says Rogan, "he portrays me as hating children, seniors, the world, and everything that's good and decent in America."

Rogan, 43, does not, however, fit the conservative stereotype. His parents, a cocktail waitress and a bartender, never married, and he didn't meet his father until he was in his twenties. His grandparents reared him in San Francisco's hardscrabble Mission district, and when they died his great aunt was given custody. She too died before long, at which point he lived with his mother, who was in and out of jail for welfare and credit-card fraud, and his alcoholic stepfather.

By the time he was 16, he'd dropped out of school and was supporting his siblings working in a pizza parlor and selling vacuum cleaners. He eventually earned a high-school equivalency degree, studied at a Bay Area community college, and then graduated from the University of California-Berkeley and UCLA law school. He was a Democrat until 1988, but left the party because of its "bizarre programs offering nostrums to every element in our society except the element of reason."

This forthright manner, on display during the impeachment battle, is one reason Democrats like Garry South, Governor Davis's ace political strategist, describe Rogan as "toast." (George W. Bush's poor standing in California is another.) If that's the price of his plain speaking, Rogan says, so be it: "I'm prepared to lose my reelection, if the cost of being reelected is doing something I believe is wrong."