Union Democrat staff

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

GOP-favored provisions.

• 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.