Rogan’s ‘Unlikely Road’
After Election Loss, Ex-Rep. Explores His Past
Three years ago, Rep. James Rogan (R-Calif.) had just lost an expensive and highly contentious re-election campaign to Democrat Adam Schiff, a loss many have attributed to his center-stage involvement in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. His plan was to wait for his twin girls to finish the school year — they were in the second grade — and pack up his things and head back to California. But President Bush had other ideas and nominated Rogan to be undersecretary of Commerce and chairman of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. During the confirmation process, which took eight months, Rogan worked at Venable Law Firm, a place he calls home again after resigning his chairmanship of the USPTO last month. When he was not working, or setting up the USPTO for what would be a massive overhaul, he was plugging away at his book, “Rough Edges: My Unlikely Road from Welfare to Washington.” The book’s release date is June 1. “It’s really just about what it was like to grow up as the illegitimate son of a convicted felon and mother on welfare and food stamps, who became a high school dropout, bouncer at a porno theater, bartender on the Sunset Strip, bartender at a Hell’s Angels biker bar and going from that to ending up in the law, in politics and ending up as a Republican after starting out as a Democrat,” Rogan says. Rogan may have written the book, but he credits another former Congressman for getting him started.
“I never would have written this book if it wasn’t for [former Speaker] Newt Gingrich [R-Ga.]. It was a few weeks after my defeat and Newt called me up and took me out to lunch. I guess he wanted to help me lick my wounds and make me feel better,” Rogan says.
According to Rogan, when he sat down to lunch, Gingrich was reading a book, taking notes for his Web site and, unbeknownst to Rogan, planning the former Congressman’s literary career.
“He said, ‘OK, you gotta write three books and impeachment is not your first book, it’s not even your second book, and your first book is the story of your life. It’s a great story,’” Rogan recalls.
Rogan says Gingrich’s prediction that the book would be a success was just simple math. He told him a book needs to sell only about 30,000 copies to be a commercial success, and since Rogan already had a base of 60,000 donors it seemed logical that a large contingent would buy his memoirs.
Gingrich set up Rogan with his book agent who was interested in the book’s premise but not so keen on the idea of Rogan writing it.
Rogan remembers the agent saying, “You’re a lawyer, nothing personal but lawyers write for lawyers, people never want to read what lawyers write.”
He kept on the agent to let him write the book.
“Finally, to shut me up, she gave me this paternalistic pat on the head and said, ‘OK little boy, go write your first chapter,’” Rogan says.
He wrote the first chapter, the agent liked it, and exactly two years later, the book was finished. He signed with Harper Collins in April 2003.
Those hoping the book is filled with juicy secrets about Clinton’s impeachment will be disappointed to find the book contains barely a mention of the proceedings. In fact, the book ends with Rogan running for office for the first time.
“Everyone expected I would be writing a book about impeachment. Impeachment is mentioned in it, but really just in the beginning and really just for irony,” Rogan says.
The irony he mentions is that during the late 1970s, then-Arkansas Attorney General Bill Clinton was one of the people who encouraged Rogan to pursue law school as a precursor to entering politics. Rogan, who was still in college, recognized Clinton as an up-and-coming politician and sought him out after a speech to get his advice on whether he should attend law school. According to Rogan, Clinton talked to him for a good 10 to 15 minutes on the virtues of law school and how it is an excellent path toward politics.
Furthering the irony of the story is that, according to Rogan, the talk occurred 20 years to the day before he addressed the Senate for Clinton’s impeachment trial.
Besides taking a crack at being a wordsmith, Rogan spent the past three years at the USPTO.
“The agency itself is 214 years old. It was created by George Washington in 1790, and the same business model that Thomas Jefferson used when he was the first unofficial commissioner was essentially the same business model that was being used when I came in,” Rogan explains.
As undersecretary of Commerce, Rogan says he converted the USPTO from a “one-size-fits-all bureaucracy” to an office that made it as easy as possible for people to patent their inventions and intellectual property.
He opines that the way the government was treating inventors and people applying for patents was essentially telling them to take a number and wait in line no matter the particulars.
He also sought to change USPTO policy to make it easier for domestic inventors to file abroad by letting their paperwork here be used for any patent requests they might make in another country.
“None of this involved brain surgery, it’s all basic econ 101, first-year business school principles, but it hadn’t been done before. What started out as a very controversial plan by the time I finished had just about universal support from the business community,” Rogan says.
Rogan gives a lot credit regarding the office’s restructuring to his staff. “I really assembled a hell of a team, they took my ideas and put the flesh on the skeleton.”
When asked if he still stays in touch with his friends in Congress, Rogan again recalls Gingrich, who during his departure said that any time Rogan wanted to get in touch with him all he had to do was call, but that Gingrich would never call Rogan.
“I asked him why and he said, ‘Because you’re a Member of Congress and I know how busy Members of Congress are. You’re too busy and I’m not going to put me on your schedule,’” Rogan recalls.
“As a Member of Congress, I had a card that had 20 to 25 things on it I had to do every day. That job is really the most time-consuming, family-unfriendly job I think on the face of the earth. And then on top of that having to commute 3,000 miles, raise $7 million for an expensive House race just to get your ass kicked makes it even harder.”
Like many former Members, Rogan has not completely exited the legislative scene. As a member of the Commerce Department, he was often testifying at committee hearings or meeting with lawmakers. “I have a lot of friends on the Hill, people who are like brothers and sisters to me and I do see them, but I try to keep that on their schedule. It’s not so much that I miss the job, it’s that I miss the camaraderie and I miss my friends.”
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Rogan’s life after Congress is that — at least according to Gingrich — he still has two more books to inject his candid nature. That should give those on Capitol Hill a reason to pause.
Is there any chance he will return to the political arena? “Someone asked me if I was ever going to go into politics again, and my wife said, ‘Not if they read your book. You’ll never be elected to anything.’”
AT A GLANCE Former Rep. James Rogan (R-Calif.)
Current residence:Arlington, Va. (but is moving back to California)
Current job: Venable LLP
Years served in Congress: 1997-2001
Career highlights: President Bill Clinton’s impeachment (he also calls it a lowlight)
Favorite food: Quiznos turkey lite sub with mustard
Last book he read: “My Quarter Century of American Politics,” Former Speaker Champ Clark’s (D-Mo.) memoirs
Last movie he saw: “Elf” (has seen it three times)