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27th Congressional District

<i> Bob Rector is op-ed page editor of the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County editions</i>

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.

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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: The main criticism of the Clinton impeachment inquiry is that it is open-ended and unrestricted. Why was it configured that way?

Answer: One of the battles that we thought we would engage in early on was how to structure these hearings. I had been given the responsibility to try to draft the rules of engagement, if you will, the protocol for how the House would proceed if Judge [Kenneth] Starr filed a referral with us. And I did a lot of interviews with past and former members on both sides that were involved in the investigative process. My recommendation before I started the interviews and after I started them was that if a report comes to us, we need to follow the regular procedures of the House, and we should not do anything extraordinary, because if we do something extraordinary, it will have the taint of partisanship. The interview that clinched it for me was the one I did with Peter Rodino, who told me how he came to handle the Watergate situation. In June of ’72, the longtime chairman of the Judiciary Committee was knocked off in a primary, unexpectedly. So January ’73 rolls around, Rodino’s next in line, but nobody really gave him much credence. He was considered a nice guy, but not a political heavyweight. And once the Nixon story started to get real legs and it became apparent this could be a major event, Rodino said there was incredible pressure on the Democratic caucus of the House to take him out of there, because you could not give the biggest political story, maybe of the century, to an untested chairman of the Judiciary Committee. The speaker at the time, Carl Albert agonized. And he came to the conclusion that if he were to do something extraordinary, it will have the taint of partisanship, and so we’ve got to follow the regular procedures. When it came time, after the report came our way, [Judiciary Committee Chairman] Henry Hyde met with a number of people, and he came to exactly the same conclusion. Hyde said, “We will adopt the Watergate model. We will put into play the rules and the precedence that the Democratic-controlled Congress operated by and we will live by that.” If you go back and look at Watergate, the debate we’re having today on whether the inquiry should be limited in scope was exactly the debate they had in 1973 and 1974. Back then, the Republicans made a major effort to do two things. They said, “Number one, we don’t want an open-ended inquiry. We want a drop dead date that this inquiry against President Nixon ends.” If you put a drop dead date on that committee, you put control of the proceedings in the hands of the people who are being investigated. Because, if you’re investigating me, and I tell you, “Fine, you can investigate me, but we agree that on Dec. 31 your investigation ends,” I have the incentive to do whatever I can to slow down the process and run out the clock. The other thing the Republicans said was, “We want to limit the scope of the inquiry. We don’t want you Democrats going off, getting into all of these other areas.” The argument back then was, “Is this a third-rate burglary of the Watergate? We should investigate two things. Number one, was the president involved in any way? And if he wasn’t involved in this burglary, then this inquiry should end, and we shouldn’t be getting into all of these other things, like campaign finance, abuse of office, potential intimidation of witnesses, and so forth.” The Democrats said, “No. We’re going to focus on the evidence that comes before us. We’re not going to hamstring ourselves. If the discovery process of a hearing leads us down another avenue, we’re going to go there.” The Democrats all said they wanted Watergate rules. When we gave them Watergate rules, they wanted to change them. I said to one reporter, “It sounds like they want Watergate rules as long as we can guarantee it won’t give them a Watergate result.”

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Q: Do you favor using the budget surplus to finance Social Security?

A: We have an opportunity to use the surpluses and protect Social Security, not just in the short term, but really for our kids and our grandkids. I think that’s an incredible opportunity. I should retain my degree of optimism on that, but I must say I have major concerns about the world economy. And I just don’t know how long America can go unscathed in these very perilous economic times. But it looks like we’re going to be riding surpluses at least for the next 10 years. We ought to be moving those surpluses into the trust fund. I’d like to see a small portion of it come back by way of tax relief, because there’s a few areas of taxation I’d like to see repealed. I’d like to see the marriage tax penalty repealed. There’s just simply no justification for a tax code that tells married couples if you’re together and you’re married you pay more than you would pay if you were together and single. I’d like to repeal the increase of taxes on seniors’ earnings because there are a lot of seniors who are still productive and would like to work, and having a tax policy that says we’re going to punish you for being productive just does not make good sense to me. You don’t have to just open the floodgates of tax relief for everybody in the country. Let’s shore up Social Security, let’s start paying down the debt, that’s the best gift we can give to our kids, that’s a heck of a legacy for Congress, if we can do it.

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Q: What about education. Do you think anything of significance was accomplished in Washington this term?

A: I’m very grateful with the final result of our budget bill this year, with respect to education. The president wanted 1.2 billion in emergency relief to hire new teachers. We wanted 1.2 billion in emergency relief to be used. The battle was over how the money was going to be funneled. We didn’t want it to go through the Department of Education with a bunch of strings. We wanted it to go directly to the schools with as minimal administrative costs as possible, and I think what we ended up with was a 3% cap on administrative costs. You’ve got some districts that are getting sometimes 55, 50 cents on the dollar from federal funds, state funds, because of the layer upon layer of educational bureaucracies. That to me is a national disgrace. I will never defend it. I will attack it everywhere I can. We’re stealing money from kids, we’re stealing money from classrooms. I want to see that money moved down locally to the school boards and bypass as much bureaucracy as is reasonable.

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Q: What about Burbank Airport? You’ve been accused of avoiding that issue.

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A: I’ve been on the ballot now in Burbank, I think, seven times, in the last 4 1/2 years. Now, I don’t know if any of you know the good folks of Burbank, but they take their airport politics very seriously, and I can assure you, you don’t have to take my word for it, it’s very difficult to do any kind of public forum in Burbank without somebody at least having a modicum of curiosity about what one’s position is relating to Burbank Airport. And they don’t take kindly to folks who aren’t at least sensitive and don’t have a knowledge of the issue. I’ve had a number of city officials come to me and say, “You know, essentially, these three cities, Burbank, Pasadena and Glendale, have all become signatories to an agreement of 20-some odd years about the airport. But now we’re all fighting about it. So, we’d like you to introduce a bill, either in Sacramento, or now Washington, and resolve the issue for us. And we’ll be very pleased with you if you would just do us the courtesy of drafting the bill so that you’d resolve the issue in our favor.” As tempting as that sometimes has been, I have declined the opportunity because to do so would be to take power away from local officials and just interpose my will upon them. [Reps.] Howard Berman and Brad Sherman both decided to use their influence with the administration and Jane Garvey of the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] to try to resurrect the issue of airplanes in Burbank taking off to the east. The planes right now fly over their respective districts, because we have this hillside to the east and pilots won’t fly in that direction. As soon as I got wind of that, I jumped in the fray; I put out a statement that said I’m opposed to this, I’m gonna fight it. And the Glendale News Press did a headline on my statement that I was going to oppose Berman and Sherman. And it said in the very first sentence of the first paragraph, “Despite criticism against Rogan for being silent on the airport issue, Rogan came out and said, blah, blah, blah . . . .” Whoever wrote that article accused me of being criticized for being silent on the airport and never taking a stand and just said it as an editorial comment in a front-page story, and then a few days later they followed up with an editorial about “Rogan’s been silent on the airport issue.”

If the worst thing anybody’s ever gonna beat me over is the charge that I didn’t get on the airport issue soon enough to suit them, that’s OK. I’m not sensitive about it, but I was disappointed in the level of reporting because it seemed to me if there’s a legitimate criticism, let them come out and say it and let them cite their source and give me a chance to rebut. Having said that, my position in 1999 will be the same as it was in 1998 and as it was in 1994, when I first ran for office. I will facilitate through whatever good office I hold any type of negotiations, if those are necessary. I will not dictate a solution to the locals from Congress. That is not our role. I’ve asked the FAA to do a legal study for me and see if we can at least define whether a mandatory curfew is even lawful. I will always oppose takeoffs to the east because of the safety hazard. The terminal needs to be moved, it’s a safety concern. I think almost everybody agrees.

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Q: Your opponent says he is more in tune with the district than you are. How do you answer that?

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A: In June we had an open primary. And my friend, Barry Gordon, was going around giving all of these interviews saying he reflected the district and Jim Rogan didn’t, and Rogan was this right-wing extreme nut who just can’t get along with folks and so on. And the funny thing is, we had this open primary with this head-to-head matchup between the two of us. The Republican registration in my district is 39%. I got 59% of the vote, to Barry’s 37% or so. If that’s being out of touch with my district, I guess I ought to just keep being out of touch with the district. I’ve been a Republican and a Democrat. I’m no longer an open seat challenger seeking political office. I’ve now cast thousands of votes in 4 1/2 years as a member of the Legislature, as a member of Congress. I have a record. If you find that my record is one of right-wing extremism, if I’m up there thumping Bibles and shaking fetuses at people, then I suspect that that will be pretty apparent. And if I’m up there working with my colleagues, then that will be apparent, too.


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