Dave Cogdill is a conservative’s conservative.
Voters in highly Republican mountain and valley districts
elected Cogdill by huge majorities to three terms in the California
Assembly and one in the State Senate.
In 2006, voters in the 14th Senatorial District — which includes
Tuolumne County — put him in office with a 67 percent majority. The
California Taxpayers Association gave him a 90 percent rating in the
Assembly and his Senate colleagues last year named him minority leader.
None of which was enough to save him from last week’s political
ostracism. In the wake of apparently unforgivable sins, Modestan
Cogdill lost his leadership post, lost party campaign funding for his
next election and was nearly censured.
“What on earth did he do?” the uninitiated might ask. Embezzle
thousands state funds? Get caught in a dalliance with a female aide?
Sell state secrets to China? Take the name of Ronald Reagan in vain?
None of the above: Dave Cogdill’s sin, as California teetered at
the edge of financial collapse, was voting with State Senate Democrats
for a long-awaited budget compromise. The plan — a product of
painstaking negotiations involving Gov. Schwarzenegger, Cogdill and
other legislative leaders from both parties — was aimed at erasing the
state’s $41 billion budget deficit.
But, because the plan included tax increases, Cogdill — at least
in the eyes of fellow Republicans — might as well have joined the
Klingons in voting to vaporize the human race.
For “No New Taxes” has become the Holy Grail of the state GOP.
Virtually all the party’s legislators, including Cogdill, had taken a
No Taxes pledge. And most viewed the oath as so sacrosanct that letting
California slide into financial chaos was an acceptable price to pay
for keeping it.
Cogdill, however, looked hard at political and fiscal realities:
As loath as he was to break his own tax promise, he knew there was no
way a tax-free budget could clear the Democrat-dominated Legislature.
So his choices were simple:
• Negotiate a deal that minimizes tax hikes and tempers them
with spending cuts, a substantial “rainy day fund” and other
• Don’t budge, and watch the state continue its fall to
financial oblivion. Or, worse, stand by as an uncompromised Democratic
budget with much heftier tax increases and more spending somehow wins
enough votes for passage.
Cogdill chose compromise, for which he has paid dearly.
He was ousted from the minority leader’s post in a midnight
caucus session and denied party help during his 2010 reelection
campaign. The intraparty cannibalism nearly peaked with official
censure of Cogdill and five more Republican lawmakers who broke party
ranks to vote for the compromise.
The shameful episode exposes the flaws of California’s budget
process: the untenable and unrealistic two-thirds requirement for
passage, the inability of present-day lawmakers to look beyond
partisanship to the general good, and the bitter harvest anyone with
the temerity to reach across the aisle must reap.
Cogdill showed character and courage and, in working toward
compromise and budget passage, had the best interests of both his
district and California as a whole in mind.
He may have been punished by his Republican colleagues for
daring to think independently, but we constituents owe Dave Cogdill a
vote of thanks.