Rep. Jim Rogan, R-Calif., calls his re-election effort "my great experiment in politics." The experiment is to discover whether voters want to be represented by a man who is willing to do what he believes is right even if it could cost him public office.
Rogan is a Republican in a Democratic district. He was a House impeachment manager in a district that in 1996 voted 49 percent for President Clinton versus 41 percent for Bob Dole. Right after the impeachment, he told me, he commissioned a poll that found that 75 percent of the voters in his district did not intend to re-elect him.
In the March open primary, Rogan's opponent, state Sen. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, attracted more votes (49 percent) than Rogan did (47 percent). Uncowed, Rogan starred in a campaign ad that his campaign began airing last week. In the ad, Rogan referred to his impeachment role when he said, "I made a lot of my Democrat friends angry when I supported impeachment."
During an interview at the state GOP convention in Palm Springs on Saturday, Rogan explained the ad: "I may
get the bejesus beat out of me on Nov. 7, but there are some things more important than winning. It's telling the truth and trying to fix the errors in your country."
Impeachment is not Rogan's only issue. He wants to fix Social Security by allowing for partial privatization. He tries to sell the proposal as an equity measure that would allow workers to accumulate savings they can pass on to their children or grandchildren when they die.
Rogan likes to point out that government workers can opt out of the Social Security system. If government workers can opt out of Social Security altogether, he reasons, surely private sector workers should be able to put some small portion of their withheld income into private accounts.
Rogan also vows to push to make public schools more accountable when they spend federal money.
Still, impeachment will continue to dominate this race. Partisans who supported and opposed impeachment have donated millions to each candidate, but more to Rogan than to Schiff. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the anti-impeachment Internet outfit MoveOn.com is sending e-mails to supporters urging them to volunteer for Schiff. (Funny how MoveOn.com doesn't want to move on after the Senate voted not to convict the president, but instead lingers on with a grudge crusade to bury those who voted their conscience on impeachment. The site should change its name to StayMadAndExterminate.com.)
For a year and a half, Rogan confided, observers have been waiting for him to renounce his role in the impeachment proceedings as he tries desperately to hang onto his seat. It won't happen. As he once put it, "There is a big difference between losing a race and losing your integrity."
The big difference may be that if you lose your integrity, you don't lack company on Capitol Hill. The question is whether voters actually want a representative who votes his conscience, or if they want to punish him for doing so.
Rogan doesn't think so. "I am not on a kamikaze mission," he said. "I believe in my heart that voters want their representatives to be honest, tell them exactly what they think, to never flinch from doing what they think is right. And I think voters at the end of the day have a very big tolerance level for somebody who they think they can trust. I'm going to be that guy whether I win or whether I lose."