By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
The way to "ward off future attacks . . . so that future allegations . . . fall on deaf ears," wrote Richard Nixon in his warped 1962 apologia Six Crises, is to . . . well, attack. Nixon's cherished strategy--so painfully evident throughout his political career--came to mind two weeks ago while watching Dana Rohrabacher on OCN's Politically Speaking. Speaking on the Feb. 1 edition, the five-term Orange County Republican congressman deflected a softball question about the ongoing criminal prosecution of his pal Assemblyman Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach), and he leveled the most scandalous allegation of the new political season. "Michael Capizzi--our district attorney--tried to plant a story that I am a homosexual," Rohrabacher said. "Which, oddly, by the way, I am not. This shows you the gutter level [to which] our district attorney [has] stooped." Rarely has OCN been so entertaining--a fact lost on the station's managers. They cut to a commercial. But Rohrabacher wasn't deterred. He continued with growing fervor after the break.
"People may have forgotten that this district attorney used a search warrant to break into Scott Baugh's home, had seven investigators--armed men--break into Scott Baugh's home allegedly to collect evidence," said Rohrabacher. "We've been trying to figure out what that evidence was because they've never presented any evidence gathered at that break-in. We've come to the conclusion that along with Mr. Capizzi trying to say that I am a homosexual--and that rumor also has been spread about Scott Baugh--that they were trying to catch Scott Baugh in some sort of sexual act. And this is the type of activity--breaking into people's homes--that is totally unacceptable. That is why I am angry at this man." Rohrabacher's startling monologue left Harold Johnson squirming in his seat and looking paler than usual. The tweedy knee-jerk conservative Orange County Register editorial writer who co-hosts Politically Speaking blurted out: "Uh, moving back onto the national or international stage . . ."
After the show's anti-climactic end, the DA--who has nearly perfected a "Who, me?" innocence after three decades in the public spotlight--shot back calmly. "I haven't spread any rumors about Dana Rohrabacher or anybody else," said Capizzi, the Irvine Co.'s candidate for state attorney general. "This is just another [incident] in a two-year chain of him making false statements about me. And this statement has no more merit than any other."
In the following days, neither mainstream daily paper bothered to report the allegations. In one paper's case, the reason is pretty clear: nothing is more likely to throw the Register into a panic than talk of homosexuality. (The Reg still refuses to inform its readers of the 10-month-old news that Brian Bennett, Bob Dornan's chief political aide since the 1970s, is a lover of man flesh.) So why would Rohrabacher publicly raise the issue of his own sex life at the exact moment when every other politician in the country is desperately trying to avoid such talk? A quick profile is in order. At first glance, Rohrabacher is your standard right-wing politico. Gun nuts, anti-immigrant bigots, Bible-thumpers and Vince-Foster-was-murdered aficionados hold the Huntington Beach resident in high regard. He was one of the few congressmen willing to call for President Bill Clinton's impeachment long before Monica Lewinsky became a household name. Rohrabacher loves to invoke the name Ronald Reagan. Oliver North is his buddy. And like so many of his military gung-ho conservative brethren (Newt Gingrich, Chris Cox, Dick Armey, Dornan, etc.), he couldn't find his way to combat when the opportunity arose. In other ways, however, the boyish 50-year-old Rohrabacher is harder to define. He loves the nightlife and surfs, although he brags about the latter more than he practices it. He admits that pot smoking was part of his past. He is--among Gingrich sycophants and vapid suits--the most personable and down-to-earth of the county's five-member congressional delegation. Once a Register opinion writer and Reagan administration speechwriter--who wears white dress pants in the dead of winter--has, contradictorily, libertarian and populist sides. He detests heavy-handed police tactics and has singlehandedly led the fight in Congress against big businesses' plans to screw individual American inventors by rewriting patent laws.
All of which means Rohrabacher is uniquely unconventional, even when he employs nasty Nixonian tactics. That lack of predictability upsets his more conventionally Republican colleagues, some of whom fuel the whisper campaign against Rohrabacher. "Rohrabacher is definitely a homosexual," one outspoken Newport Beach Republican has repeatedly claimed without offering any substantial proof. In the last election, anonymous individuals made similar allegations to the local media, pointing out that, for years, the congressman shared a house with another man. All of which may explain why Rohrabacher has been so publicly heterosexual.Imagined homosexuality or not, there have been some weird behind-the-scenes maneuvers. Three independent sources inside the Register--which routinely runs political cover for favored local Republicans--say their paper tried to help Rohrabacher counter the rumors by publishing an article detailing his wild antics in straight bars. The story never materialized. But it is puzzling that a politician close to the Reverend Lou Sheldon and his Traditional Family Values group would want reports of his barhopping and womanizing plastered on the front pages of a newspaper. Isn't it? Which takes us back to Baugh and Rohrabacher's anger at Capizzi (and vice versa). Back in 1996, during the early stages of the DA's investigation into Baugh's election, the homosexual rumors intensified--particularly in political and media circles. In my own dealings with the DA's office, no official ever called Rohrabacher or Baugh queer, but they did imply that something sexual was up. A veteran daily reporter, however, has insisted to both Rohrabacher and the Weekly that the DA's office attempted to plant a sexually provocative story. If this was the case, then the DA had a lot of explaining to do. At that time, I called Baugh--a graduate of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University--hoping for an off-the-record discussion of the rumors and was cussed out by one of his aides. The next thing I knew, the Register started running photo after photo of Baugh with a woman holding his arm. A Republican operative later admitted to me that Team Baugh had consciously decided to have a female appear next to Baugh in every news photo. That decision, he assured me, was to counter what he called "false rumors." Soon after, both Baugh and Rohrabacher married . . . women. Baugh hooked up with the woman in the photos, Wendy, and Rohrabacher wed his campaign-committee manager, Rhonda Carmony. (In the incestuous world of OC politics, Carmony was indicted for her role in the Baugh scandal.)
Because an individual's sex life--whether he or she is a politician or not--should be completely off-limits under most circumstances, I have never asked Rohrabacher if he has had homosexual experiences. But he has volunteered, apropos of nothing I asked, "I am not a homosexual." The congressman agrees, he said, "that if I was homosexual, and I was out there bashing homosexuals--which, by the way, I have never done--then that would be hypocritical and fair game" for criticism. Yes, it would.
While he was on OCN, Rohrabacher said that the public should give Clinton the benefit of the doubt in his sex scandal. The same generosity ought to apply to Rohrabacher and Baugh. But whatever the truth, it's interesting that Capizzi has had the cajones to repeatedly address the Log Cabin Club, the gay and lesbian Republican group. He receives, I am told, standing ovations. Rohrabacher, on the other hand, can't seem to muster the courage or independence to accept the group's numerous invitations. To his credit, Baugh attended a meeting last week of about 30 gay youths. In the end, Rohrabacher is still sadly relying on Nixon, who placed political expediency above all else.