MAN IN THE NEWS : Sen. Rogers Is Used to Being ‘Captain of My Ship’ : Legislature: Despite critics’ outrage, he refuses to cancel scheduled address before alleged white supremacists. He says he is no racist and will only speak about states rights.
The heat is on, but state Sen. Don Rogers is cool and unbending--even amid complaints about his plan to address a group of suspected white supremacists tonight.
His scheduled appearance before an organization that allegedly embraces racist beliefs has evoked such strong comments as “reprehensible” and “irresponsible.”
And that’s just from the state Senate, where Rogers represents one of California’s most conservative districts, encompassing the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys and beyond into oil and farming country.
Watchdog groups that track extremist organizations blasted Rogers’ planned dinner-hour talk at the fourth annual Jubilation Celebration and Conference in Bakersfield, with the Anti-Defamation League calling it “outrageous and shocking.”
And the phone in Rogers’ Capitol office Friday brought at least two queries during a lunch break from fellow Republican officeholders.
Not to worry, Rogers told the congressman and assemblyman. All he plans to talk about, he said, is his Senate resolution reiterating states rights and putting Washington, D.C., on notice that California wants no more costly federal mandates.
According to the Coalition for Human Dignity, a watchdog group in Oregon, the conference is sponsored by a California-based newspaper called the Jubilee. The paper is a national publication for the Christian Identity movement, whose followers believe that people of Northern European descent are superior to those of other races and ethnicities. People of color are derided as “mud people.”
In the face of criticism, Colorado state Rep. Charles Duke backed out of his scheduled speech tonight before Jubilee followers. But Rogers has not. He has given his word that he does not hold racist beliefs, and he believes that that should be enough to satisfy critics.
Such willfulness is typical of a man who entered politics 20 years ago because he was appalled at the size of his tax bill. Back then, in the pre-Proposition 13 era, the bill had jumped 45% in one year.
“I’m a businessman who got into politics for all the right reasons--to reduce the role of government,” said Rogers, 66, an oil geologist and partner in a drilling firm called Success Petroleum. “I did it to try to keep government from destroying us, from overregulating and excessively intruding into our lives.”
In conversation, Rogers at times catches himself when his message grows strident. “Unlawful” federal mandates--upon quick reflection--become mandates that are “probably not constitutionally authorized.”
On the Senate floor, however, Rogers often will allow himself to be baited by liberal Democrats into heated arguments against gun control, environmental protection and any perceived challenge to the protections of the U.S. Constitution.
“He’s our most staunch constitutionalist,” said fellow conservative state Sen. Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove).
On the subject of the environment, Rogers also is adamant: Global warming is a hoax. A thinning ozone layer is a lie. Oil spills have a minimal effect.
“I like clean air, clean water and clean food as much as anybody,” Rogers said in an interview. “But I think we’ve allowed the pendulum to swing too far, and we need some common sense brought back into the mix.”
Though Rogers has a serious devotion to the tenets of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, he is not without a sense of humor. He once greeted state Sen. Ralph C. Dills (D-Gardena) with a demand for an environmental impact report on the bright green jacket Dills was wearing.
But there were no wisecracks circulating on the Senate floor Friday as Rogers’ colleagues contemplated how tonight’s appearance could affect the upper house.
“I think it’s irresponsible--and not even clever--to say you’re going before a group like this to only talk about states rights and ignore the associations with the Aryan Nation types,” said state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica). “This is a group whose message is anti-Semite, anti-black, anti-minority.”
State Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) noted that Rogers has been chairman of the Senate’s Veteran Affairs Committee since the start of the current two-year session.
“I am just really upset,” Watson said. “Veterans come in all colors. They aren’t only Northern Europeans.”
Still, there was no formal move to censure Rogers, and the senator repeated that he was “the captain of my ship” and that he would not be swayed into supporting the views of white supremacists.
It was just months before Rogers tangled with the Internal Revenue Service that he first spoke before Jubilee followers, many of whom share his belief that the federal government must be kept at bay.
In July, 1992, federal authorities seized Rogers’ private plane to cover back taxes that he owed on investments. Rogers fought back by filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection to keep ownership of the plane through a trust he set up while he determined a way to pay the IRS.
Rogers said his biggest accomplishment in government came 12 years ago when he sponsored a successful citizen-backed initiative to abolish the state’s inheritance tax.
He points to his states rights resolution (SJR 44) as a high point of the legislative session that is now winding down. Four other states have passed measures similar to Rogers’, which “informs the President and Congress that California is claiming sovereignty under the 10th Amendment.”
The measure--and its demands that the federal government immediately end imposing any mandates that are beyond its constitutional powers--has a certain appeal to the participants in today’s Jubilee conference, at which states rights is a major theme.