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GOP CONVENTION '96

Where Rogan Goes, Fans Are Sure to Follow

August 14, 1996|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Following Assemblyman Jim Rogan as he made the rounds at the GOP convention Tuesday was like participating in a "love-in" for the prodigal politician.

The Glendale legislator seemed to know everyone.

And everyone he knew seemed to be a fan.

Whether waiting in a buffet line or walking down a hall of the California delegation's hotel, Rogan was hailed and hugged by a cast that ranged from grass-roots volunteers to top party officials.

Most of those who crossed Rogan's path Tuesday couldn't wait to share glowing accolades about the assemblyman and congressional candidate--a surfeit of praise that he often deflected with humor.

Granted, Rogan could be expected to have fans in his own party, but the level of enthusiasm for him goes beyond the usual partisanship.

He seems to have connected--and often--on a personal level. Likable, engaging and attentive, Rogan seems to win people over. They see something special in this 38-year-old from Glendale who has had four careers--and the same pair of black wingtips--since graduating from UCLA Law School 13 years ago.

Before running for the Assembly 2 1/2 years ago, Rogan was a judge, a prosecutor and an attorney in private practice. Now he is running for the congressional seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Carlos Moorhead.

Also a Rogan fan, it appears.

"I'll bet you he'll be 'Mr. Speaker' someday," Moorhead said Tuesday.

Heady praise for someone who has won but one election and faces a tough race in November against Democrat Doug Kahn.

The traditionally Republican 27th Congressional District--centered on Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena--has become more friendly to Democrats in recent years and Kahn contends that Rogan's conservative views are too extreme for it.

But many among the convention crowd talked Tuesday about Rogan's enormous career potential.

After greeting Rogan warmly in a lunch buffet line Tuesday, former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Robert Philibosian minced no words.

"He's the future of California politics and maybe the future of national politics," said Philibosian, a San Fernando Valley resident. Not only does Rogan have "strong principles" he sticks to, "everybody loves him," Philibosian said.

Clarita Gustafson, an honorary delegate from Arcadia, went even further as she sat down with Rogan and his wife, Christine, at an outdoor lunch given by Gov. Pete Wilson.

"I asked myself, 'Do I want to be here sitting with a future president or over there with Pete Wilson?' " Gustafson explained.

Although Rogan has a collection of presidential political memorabilia dating back to William Henry Harrison, he claims not to have presidential aspirations.

It was, however, his childhood dream.

"When I was a kid, I wanted to be president because I was too fat to play baseball," Rogan said.

At 11, Rogan started collecting political autographs, standing outside a Bay Area television station to ask Hubert Humphrey for his signature. Now his collection is so extensive that the governor is borrowing it for a display at the state Capitol.

A former Democrat, Rogan said he has met six presidents.

Rogan acknowledges that he was viewed by some as a wunderkind judge headed for advancement. Lately, he has been urged to stay in California politics and run for attorney general and later governor. He said he rejected such a "resume-building" strategy in favor of running for Congress to take part in writing laws that would free the state from what he regards as oppressive federal regulation.

"When you take your mind off resume building and . . . if you do the right thing, things will work out," he said.

Rogan was going to begin Tuesday with his usual 2 1/2-mile run, but instead wrote an overdue opinion piece on immigration for a newspaper.

By 9:30 a.m., he was downstairs chatting outside the meeting room for the California delegation. Both his wife and his aide saved seats for him inside the room, where he was introduced by Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle, one of his Sacramento roommates.

Like many in the delegation, Rogan was in high spirits after Colin Powell's convention speech the night before. That and Sen. Bob Dole's selection of Jack Kemp as the vice presidential nominee has raised the energy level of many of the Republican convention faithful.

At the end of the delegates' meeting, after speeches from Wilson, former Vice President Dan Quayle and former Gov. George Deukmejian, Valley delegate Eleanor Ashmore moved over to sit next to Rogan.

Although she doesn't live in his district, Ashmore, a longtime party volunteer offered her help in his campaign.

"He's absolutely fantastic," Ashmore said.

A deadpan Rogan got out his wallet and handed Ashmore $1.

"Oh Ellie, you're making me blush," Rogan said.

Later, in seeming amazement, Rogan told of finding "Rogan for Congress" buttons, made up by the party, on sale at the convention center.

Rogan was going to buy just a few, but went back for more to boost sales.

Instead of taking a cab to the Wilson lunch, Rogan rode the delegation bus, which he insisted was not a gesture meant to impress any observers with his egalitarianism and opposition to big spenders.

Is he truly frugal?

"Take it from me," said Christine Rogan.

The couple's 4-year-old twin daughters stayed at home.

After the Wilson lunch, the Rogans took a break before going early to the Convention Center so Rogan could take political event pictures--another hobby.

Although the Rogans had a quiet dinner alone the night before, they were headed for a private political party aboard a yacht after Tuesday night's session.

There, one can be almost certain, Rogan faced more close encounters of the kind that is all in a day's work for a rising GOP star.

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