Rogan's Happy as Long as They Don't Ask Him to Grab a Mop

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

HIZZHONOR ARRIVES: James E. Rogan may have followed in Pat Nolan's footsteps in representing the 43rd Assembly District in the Legislature, but don't think for a minute that he got to move his law books and family photos right into Nolan's roomy former office.

No, this week he's settling into what's known around the Assembly as the "broom closet"--the smallest office in the most remote area of the building.

Waiting visitors are shown to seats in the cafeteria next door. And if you open the side door to Rogan's private inner chambers, you'll see a fleet of aluminum meat-cutting carts parked just outside.

It's a reminder of his lowly status as the most junior member of the minority party, courtesy of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), who carried on a love-hate friendship with Rogan's predecessor.

And Rogan, a Glendale Republican who ran for the Assembly after Nolan resigned and pleaded guilty to racketeering, might be a short-timer at that--filling only the remainder of Nolan's 1994 term unless he wins the primary and general election too.

Even with the Speaker assigning him to the notorious office-ette, Rogan speaks optimistically about his future in the Capitol. He regards his sentence to Room 6017 as a "badge of honor." History, he notes, shows that among the previous tenants of the broom closet are two who, once upon a time, ran afoul of former Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh--Brown himself and a young assemblyman named Pete Wilson.

Still, Rogan says Democrats and Republicans alike have been gracious in welcoming him, with many confiding that they never really believed Nolan meant to break the law, and several posing the question that is foremost on their minds: Why would anyone give up a judgeship and take a $30,000 pay cut to become a legislator?

With wry humor, the former Glendale Municipal Court judge relates, "My mother had the best answer when asked that. She said, 'Well, you know, that time when he was a baby and I dropped him on his head. . . .' "

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PAY BOOSTS: Being new in town, Rogan is also not shy about forthrightly answering another oft-posed question: Will you, or will you not, accept the 37% salary increase that a citizens panel granted legislators?

Some lawmakers are just plain ducking the issue, realizing that this kind of a salary boost doesn't sit well with voters who have tightened their own belts to ride out the recession. Consultants are advising them to figuratively throw up their arms and remind reporters they had nothing to do with the citizens commission's decision to boost their pay from $52,500 to $72,000 a year.

But Rogan thinks that is a gutless response and says legislators shouldn't "hide behind" such a stance. "I need it so I'm going to take it," he said, noting it could make the difference between "Motel 6 and sleeping on my office couch."

Other legislators were skittish about even discussing the issue. Some dared not utter the dreaded words and had legislative aides return reporters' phone calls.

Take Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), for example. Among San Fernando Valley lawmakers, no one has a better talent for seeking publicity than Katz.

But on the matter of the pay raise, it took spokeswoman Sue Gold to address the query: "Richard said to call and say, yes, he accepted it. Richard has nothing else to say about it."

Assemblywoman Barbara Friedman (D-North Hollywood) also had an aide call to read this statement: "I will accept the raise recommended by the citizens commission. This increase puts state legislators' compensation in line with comparable jobs in both the private sector and in many other public positions.

"Since the money for the raise must come from the Legislature's own budget, which is capped under Proposition 140, there will not be any additional cost to taxpayers."

Three area legislators avoided the issue like it was a hot potato to be dodged if tossed their way. They simply did not return calls on the matter.

They are Assemblyman Bill Hoge (R-Pasadena), state Sen. Don Rogers (R-Tehachapi) and state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles), who has moved into the Valley's 20th Senate District to run for election here.

Three others responded by saying they would rather not say, thank you, noting that the raise wouldn't affect them anyway because they are not seeking additional terms. The salary boost would take effect in December, their last month in the Legislature.

They are Assemblyman Terry Friedman (D-Brentwood), who is running for Los Angeles County Superior Court; Assemblyman Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles), who is running for state insurance commissioner, and state Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys), who wants to be state treasurer.

Assemblywoman Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills) said she'll take the pay hike, but only because it will be funded out of the Legislature's existing budget. She too noted that it was out of her hands, and the Legislature had no say-so in the matter.

"Yes, I'll accept it but only because it's not costing the taxpayers any additional dollars," Boland said.

And there's always the potential for flip-flopping on the controversial topic.

Assemblyman William J. (Pete) Knight (R-Palmdale) initially told reporters he would take the raise, tossing back the question of whether they would turn down a pay increase if offered one.

A day or so later, however, Knight's office phone started to ring with the most unhappy constituents complaining the loudest. "They're upset," he said, "and I can understand it."

Now Knight says: "I don't know what I'm going to do with it yet," noting that he may decide to sign some of the money over to a local charity.

"I think it's going to be a hot issue and one of the worst things the commission could have done at this point in time," Knight said, upon reflection. "The state's in a recession, people are having to take pay cuts and the commission comes up and says, you're going to get a 37% pay increase. It couldn't have come at a worse time."

State Sen. Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) did not get bogged down with the issue, however, noting that she is running for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor and expects to win.

"I'm thinking very positively, and as lieutenant governor I don't get a pay raise, so I'm not concerned," Wright said. If she fails to emerge victorious from the June primary, Wright will then examine whether to accept the raise.

Fellow state Sen. Newton Russell (R-Glendale) said he has no qualms about taking the raise, though he seemed well aware that his decision may spark a ripple of discontent in his district.

"I know it's a sensitive issue and I think most people feel that in the Legislature, even if we worked for free, we'd be overpaid," he said. "There would be no way for the Legislature to get even a dollar increase without the public being upset about it."

Only one Valley-area lawmaker said "Absolutely no way!" to the pay hike. And he happens to be the only one who is wealthy enough to fund his election bids by himself.

State Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) urged a roll call vote by the Legislature, putting every member on record about whether he or she will accept the raise.

In registering his outrage, however, the reformist senator and gubernatorial candidate did come clean in a news release: "Hayden acknowledged that his financial situation is better than most other legislators."

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A QUESTION OF LIBEL: A state appellate court has dismissed a 5-year-old libel suit against Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

The suit, filed by former Supervisor Baxter Ward, alleged that Antonovich defamed Ward during the 1988 campaign by charging that Ward had removed or destroyed 5th District office files eight years earlier.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal, in a ruling filed March 24, upheld a 1992 judgment that found that Antonovich did not know the statement about the office files was false and did not publish the statement in reckless disregard for the truth.

The appellate court also found that Ward, who represented himself, filed briefs that contained "an incomplete summary of the facts, insufficient record references and virtually no citation of pertinent authority."

Times staff writer Tracey Kaplan contributed to this column.

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