State Sen. Dave Cogdill of Modesto surprised Republican Party leaders by announcing Tuesday that he won't run for re-election less than a year after he held one of the top posts in the Legislature.
The party does not have anyone waiting in the wings to run for the seat, which is in a heavily Republican district that conservatives expect to hold even without the incumbent seeking re-election.
His decision also reflects his satisfaction with the Legislature's move last week to place an $11 billion water infrastructure bond before voters, an effort that he called the "pinnacle of my career."
"While more work lies ahead to complete this goal, I am confident that Californians will support an investment in a reliable water supply for this generation, as well as our children and grandchildren," said Cogdill, 58.
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Cogdill had more than $400,000 in a re-election campaign fund, and he was rumored to be on the short list of candidates who could be tapped by Gov. Schwarzenegger to fill in as lieutenant governor over the next year after John Garamendi moves to the U.S. Congress.
Cogdill, who has served as a lawmaker in Sacramento since 1999, said he wanted to spend more time with his family and return to work in the private sector.
"That's news to me," said Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, chairman of the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee, which steered $17,000 to Cogdill's re-election campaign last month. "I am really quite surprised. He's really done such a fine job. I thought he'd be a shoo-in for re-election."
It's not clear who will step forward first to run for Cogdill's seat, which could make for a wide-open June primary. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district by 14 percentage points.
Republican Assemblyman Mike Villines of Fresno is one potential candidate, although he is running for state insurance commissioner. Assemblyman Tom Berryhill of Modesto also lives in Cogdill's district.
George Petrulakis, a Modesto Republican leader and friend of Cogdill's, said the race could be an opportunity for outsiders.
Normally, he said, an established politician such as Villines or Berryhill would be a front-runner. But a strong conservative movement reflected by "tea party" protests and the ascendancy of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin tells Petrulakis that it might be a year for someone who has no connection to Sacramento or Washington.
"It's a very volatile atmos-phere," Petrulakis said. "The normal rules are not necessarily operative for 2010."
Cogdill had a reputation as a hard worker who rose to become the leader of the Republican Party in the state Senate last year. He said he's proud of bills he helped pass that fought methamphetamine production, opened doors for veterans and protected rural health care.
"I think it's fair to take him at his word," said Joan Clendenin, vice chairwoman of the county Republican Central Committee. She said she was surprised by Cogdill's announcement. "He finished the water bond. That was his big deal. He was really committed to that. Now that it's done, maybe he doesn't want to do that anymore."
Cogdill was ousted from his party leadership position in February because of dissent among his colleagues over a budget-balancing compromise he helped broker. Other senators opposed about $14 billion in temporary taxes that were part of the deal.
Associates said that rejection did not weigh in on Cogdill's decision not to run for office again. Villines lost his Assembly leadership post because of the same budget package.
Schwarzenegger, a partner in the fateful budget compromise, issued a statement Tuesday praising Cogdill's work.
"He consistently puts the needs of Californians ahead of his own interests or political endeavors, and it has been a privilege and honor to work together to address the challenges facing our state," the governor said.
Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2366.