27th Congressional District
Perhaps nowhere else in the state of California has the presidential sex scandal loomed over a political contest as it has in 27th Congressional District.
That’s because the district, which encompasses Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, has as its incumbent Republican Rep. James Rogan, a highly visible member of the House Judiciary Committee, which will conduct the Clinton impeachment inquiry.
Although that may seem like a political plus to some, it’s also made him the target for criticism from his opponent, Barry Gordon, an attorney and former Screen Actors Guild president. Gordon, a Democrat, has attacked Rogan for being preoccupied with Clinton’s downfall, saying there is a “perception of unfairness” about the inquiry being led by House Republicans.
For his part, Rogan has maintained that the impeachment inquiry will be a fair and balanced process and that Clinton must be given a “presumption of innocence” unless and until evidence proves otherwise.
Historically a bedrock Republican district, the 27th has changed in recent years, with Democratic registration at 44% compared to 39% for Republicans.
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Question: You have been critical of your opponent’s role in the Clinton impeachment inquiry. Why?
Answer: The bipartisan rhetoric that he’s put forward on the Sunday morning news talk shows hasn’t matched his votes in the House Judiciary Committee. There was a motion made to make the vote count public so that people could understand what it was and understand how partisan it was. Committee Chairman Henry Hyde agreed, and that vote passed by 28-7. [Rep. Jim] Rogan was one of the seven who tried to keep it secret. I feel that shows that he did not want people to know just how partisan those votes were and how slanted the process was. Another vote was taken when a redaction log was put together to show what the material was by page and line number, and there is a brief, generic description of each. It just says, “Privacy, privacy, privacy, sexual description, sexual description, sexual description,” and so forth. There was an amendment to very specifically describe the manner of sexual contact. Only six Republicans voted for that. Rogan was one of the six. So when he goes out there on Sunday morning and says, “I’m part of this bipartisan group and I want to be bipartisan about this, and I want to be fair about this, it just seems to me that everything that he’s doing in that committee is designed to, (a), hide the partisanship of the process and, (b), to try to move in a direction to embarrass the president even more than he’s been embarrassed.
Q: Do you think, based on what you know, that President Clinton should be censured?
A: Absolutely. He needs to be shamed. He needs to be rebuked. I don’t think we can allow the message to go out that the conduct he’s participated in should simply be ignored. But on the other hand, my understanding is that the purpose of impeachment is really twofold. One is to punish an official’s wrongdoing, but probably even more importantly it is to protect the public from abuses of office that are so serious that we would be endangered by allowing that person to stay in office. And certainly Watergate was an abuse of the Democratic processes of government.
Q: Do you think the president is a detriment to the Democratic party, specifically your attempts to be elected?
A: No. Take the budget agreement. He really stood up for some initiatives that we needed to have, even in the light of everything that was happening to him. I think he gets points for that. And I don’t think it’s a matter anymore of defending or not defending the president. I think we all understand what he did was not a good thing to do. It was a reprehensible thing to do, but does he damage the party? I’m not seeing that, and quite to the contrary, what I’m seeing is that people perceive a basic unfairness to this whole process.
Q: On to more local issues: What would you do to solve the stalemate involving the Burbank Airport?
A: I think everybody supports building a new terminal but we want to do it in a way that is not going to be a terrible burden on the homeowners there who didn’t bargain for a big airport when they bought their property. And so it seems to me that a mandatory curfew is probably one of the most important pieces of all. Beyond that, one of the first things I would do when I’m elected is to walk into [Rep.] Howard Berman’s office and [Rep.] Brad Sherman’s office and I would say: “Look, I appreciate everything you’re doing. I welcome it but this is my district. So from now on, all of this comes through me. We work together, but this goes through my office.” I thought it was very strange when the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] had a meeting out here with all kinds of representatives, with Sherman, with Berman, and Rogan wasn’t there. He sent a letter saying, “Well, gee, I didn’t know about it. . . .” I mean, he wrote the letter, like, about two weeks before the meeting. He said, “Well, gee, I didn’t know about it, and I can’t make it. . . . " He was in the district and I can’t imagine what he was doing that was so important that he couldn’t send a staff member to cover while he took part in this meeting, which had to do with one of the most important local issues in his district. It showed a lack of willingness to step up to the plate. You don’t wait to be invited to a party in your own house.
Q: If you go to Washington, what kind of agenda will you pursue?
A: I would want to work to pass an HMO patients’ “bill of rights.” I think it’s essential. One of the scariest things to me is the fact that there’s something called a medical loss ratio [MLR]. It is the amount of the premium dollar that actually goes into health care. And there are companies, for-profit HMOs, that are basically being told by their stockholders that in order for the company to be attractive to Wall Street, that they have to keep the MLR as low as possible. You would think you would want to get as much of the premium dollar into health care and as little into marketing and administration and anything else. But it’s not working that way. It’s the only industry dealing with public health and safety that I can think of that has no regulation whatsoever.
Q: What else?
A: We also need campaign finance reform. There were 51 Republicans who actually crossed lines to vote for that. There were four in California. Rogan voted to remove all federal contribution limits. He’s hoping that disclosure is going to take care of everything. The fact is that disclosure is a very sticky problem. I mean, how many layers do you have to go through before you really know who is ultimately financing a campaign? I see contributions from groups with names like “Working Americans for a Better Life Fund.” Who is that?
Q: What specifically would you like to see?
A: I certainly want to see the end of “soft money.” I certainly want to see issue advocacy ads become much more advocacy issue ads rather than glorified campaign ads for individual candidates. I would like to see a package of incentives for those people who are willing to hold down spending. I also want to see a somewhat stricter definition of what should go out at taxpayers’ expense in terms of frank mail. In other areas, I’m going to fight for the school modernization financing legislation. I will definitely fight for gun control. We have to find some level of so-called CAP Law, or Child Access Prevention Law, which would hold parents accountable if they keep a gun in the house in an unsafe manner, or in a place where a child can get at it. But that’s a tough one to enforce because then you’re gonna to be going into a home, you’re going to have a lot of lawsuits. There are states that have CAP laws and I’m gonna be looking at how those states have succeeded.
Q: What legislative committees would be of interest to you?
A: Obviously judiciary, but that’s probably going to be a tough one except that I am a lawyer. I did deal intensively with international copyright issues when I was president of the Screen Actors Guild. The entertainment industry would frankly probably push very hard to get me on judiciary because it’s so important to them. The other one is education in the work force, which I feel very strongly about. Third choice would be the health subcommittee, so that would mean commerce.
Q: Aside from school modernization, what is your education agenda?
A: I want to find a way to develop voluntary national standards. We’re going to have to find a balance between making sure that there are national priorities, national goals, and then freeing up the creativity on the local level to achieve those goals. I think that the days of a top-down bureaucracy are just simply over. So how do you do that? How do you create standards without creating a lot of paperwork? I think we concentrate too much on the “how,” on the process of how people should achieve things, and not as much on the goal that we’re trying to achieve. We need to set fairly clear goals for folks and then say: “This is what we want you to get to. We will let you get to it the way you want. We will let you use your creativity and talent to do that in the most cost-effective way and the way that makes the most sense for your school, or school district.” I have a problem with abolishing the Department of Education. I think we need to make some changes. I think we need to reform the Department of Education and make it less bureaucratic. But on the other hand, to abolish the Department of Education sends the wrong message. It says that we no longer have a commitment, a national commitment to educational excellence, and I think that’s a mistake. And Rogan has wanted to do that, and also voted against any money for national standards, any money for national testing.
Q: What would you bring to the district as a congressman that the district isn’t getting now?
A: I would be representing this district’s values. I have a very pro-choice district. Rogan is against that. My district wants gun control. That’s one of the key reasons that they elected Jack Scott to the [California] Assembly because he had Republican support, and he had Republican support largely from those people that split with the anti-gun control position. Rogan will not vote for any gun control measure. They want tobacco legislation. Rogan will not vote for tobacco legislation. They want a patients’ bill of rights. Rogan did not vote for a patients’ bill of rights. They want a strong public educational system. Rogan is voting for vouchers, he’s voting for things that divert resources out of public schools at a time when I think it’s critical that we have them. My district tells me they want to see campaign finance reform. They want to see an end to this fund-raising addiction. Rogan himself, when he was in the Assembly, authored a piece of legislation to impose the federal contribution limits in the state of California. Now he votes to lift all limits off of federal contributions. So he’s changed. He’s moved more to the right. He just doesn’t fit. If he were in another district, he might. But we have a district that’s 44% Democratic, 38% Republican, according to the last figures that I’ve heard. We’re in a district that is very diverse and changing all the time. What they need, what I will bring to them, is a representative who I believe will be much more compatible, much more consistent, with their views. I have wonderful support from people in the entertainment industry. A lot of people don’t realize that the number one employer in Glendale is the Disney Company. I feel I fit my district in that way, too.