WASHINGTON — James E. Rogan has wedged his 6-foot-1 frame into a phone booth between the men's room and a kitchenette in a House office building. The air stinks of stale cigar smoke and there's no place to sit. But who cares? His 20 minutes in this cramped closet will be rewarded handsomely.
On the other end of the line is radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy, broadcasting live to a syndicated audience of hard-right Clinton haters. They have found themselves a new poster boy--the two-term Glendale Republican who helped prosecute the president and might lose his House seat because of it.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 30, 1999 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Rogan photo--In Thursday's Times, a photo caption accompanying a story on Rep. Jim Rogan incorrectly identified Rep. Hale Boggs (D-La.) as a senator. The congressman was House majority leader when he disappeared on a plane flight in Alaska in 1972.
"Let's pick up the challenge and support Jim Rogan. . . ," Liddy roars. "And don't think just a couple of bucks won't help."
From the ashes of impeachment has risen an icon. In the tradition of former Iran-Contra figure Oliver North, Rogan has sprung from relative obscurity to headliner du jour on the conservative banquet circuit. The party faithful stampede to shake his hand. At the California state GOP convention this year, he got more standing ovations than seven candidates for president.
He has tapped a vein in the conservative movement and it's a gusher, raising $1 million-plus since the impeachment case ended, his list of donors swelling from 3,000 to 20,000 with checks pouring in from around the nation.
But if the zeal with which he prosecuted Clinton made him a hero to some, it made him a villain to others. DreamWorks SKG mogul David Geffen committed unlimited "time and money and effort" to send him packing. "There is no question," says Washington political analyst Charlie Cook, that Rogan "is the top targeted GOP incumbent in the country."
He already was vulnerable in a district transformed by years of demographic change from a predominantly white, Republican stronghold to an ethnically diverse, Democratic opportunity. His performance in the Senate trial served to kick a political hornet's nest at home, making him appear out of step with a constituency--not to mention a nation--that wanted impeachment to end.
"He put himself on the Democratic radar screen" during Clinton's trial, said Erik Smith, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Impeachment galvanized national attention around this race."
Pundits agree he's in trouble, facing what could be the most closely watched House race in the country--a voter referendum on impeachment. State Sen. Adam Schiff of Pasadena, a well-funded Democrat, has surfaced as his likely opponent. A former federal prosecutor, Schiff is regarded as a tenacious yet thoughtful lawmaker and already enjoys strong name recognition in the 27th Congressional District.
Which is why we find Rogan in the phone booth, all smiles as he tells listeners where to send checks.
At 41, there are few things Rogan enjoys more than a good fight. Maybe it's because he's had so many. He has been in a battle ever since a San Francisco cocktail waitress named Alice Kleupfer conceived him out of wedlock in 1956. The man who came to perform the abortion got all the way to the living room before she changed her mind.
A high school dropout, Rogan may be the only member of Congress ever to work as a bouncer in an X-rated theater, just one chapter in an early life that was an unlikely combination of promise and delinquency.
He was a political junkie at age 8, a confirmed Democrat by 13. By 14 he was cutting class and smoking pot. At 15, he was kicked out of school, settling for a sheepskin from Mr. Nakato's bartending academy.
Hardly the conventional path of a man who would become a gang prosecutor, a municipal judge, state assemblyman and key player in the century's most famous political trial.
But just when you think you know him, you don't. Like a carnival hall of mirrors, there's a different Jim Rogan wherever you look.
Christian Coalition Rates Him A-Plus
He wears Price Club suits and ties his ties in an aristocratic Windsor knot. He is an opponent of legal abortion but campaigns for Republicans for abortion rights. He eats steamed vegetables and drinks a Diet Coke for lunch, then packs away three Kit Kat bars for dessert. The Christian Coalition gives his voting record an A-plus, but you won't catch him in church every Sunday.
His childhood could not be more at odds with his straight-arrow image--he grew up unsupervised in blue-collar sections of the Bay Area, reared by a string of family members who took him in when his mother did not.
He was born James Edward Barone, the son of a bartender who wouldn't marry his mother. He lived with his grandfather, a longshoreman whose idea of a good time was watching Gillette's "Friday Night at the Fights" with a cigarette in one hand and his grandson in his lap.