Republican party leaders did Cogdill wrong

By Union Democrat staff February 26, 2009 09:38 am

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.