Sen. Dave Cogdill of Modesto represents the party of no new taxes, but he wouldn't advise his Republican colleagues to sign a pledge locking them into that position.
It's not that Cogdill's going soft on his conservative values as he prepares to leave the Legislature and pursue a post as Stanislaus County assessor. He never would've been named the party's leader in the Senate if he were a waffler on taxes.
He says lawmakers relegate themselves to the "back bench" if they try to deal with the state's toughest problems without all of their options on the table.
He faced that situation a year ago when he went to the bargaining table to negotiate a budget compromise that would pull the state out of a $42 billion deficit, an unprecedented amount of red ink that had the governor issuing 20,000 layoff notices and halting public works projects.
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Cogdill agreed to $14.3 billion in temporary taxes in a compromise that included $16 billion in cuts. It also put a measure on the May 2009 ballot that asked voters to place a spending cap on the state general fund.
Those wins -- the cuts and the proposed spending limit -- weren't enough for Cogdill and his counterpart in the Assembly, Mike Villines, to keep their leadership positions. Their colleagues ousted them shortly after making the budget compromise.
"As conservatives both fiscally and socially, we could've written a bill that outlawed abortion and strengthened gun rights, but nothing was worth that temporary tax increase," he said.
The ballot measure failed without picking up much support from the parties.
"For me, (the budget deal) was a real victory for conservatives. We got a spending limit put before voters. At the end of the day, the extremes got in bed together for completely different reasons, and we lost a real opportunity to put in the kind of reforms conservatives have wanted," he said.
Those battles are on his mind as Cogdill positions his goals for his last months in Sacramento with extremes still dominating the state's discourse. Priority No. 1 for him is building support for an $11.1 billion state water bond he sponsored.
That could be a tough task, with a poll showing voters are leaning against the November bond. The bond is fighting a perception among voters that the state is spending too much money and that it wouldn't yield tangible improvements.
Cogdill, as with the budget compromise a year ago, argues the bond advances goals that took years to develop. It hits a mix of targets for water improvements, ranging from storage to delta protections to groundwater cleanup.
Cogdill says it was necessary to include that mix of interests to bring on board lawmakers from around the state. If the bond fails, he says, the state will miss a chance to shore up a system that hasn't been improved much since the 1960s.
"If we miss the opportunity to get here, remember what it took to get here -- decades," he said.
He said he chose not to seek re-election for personal and professional reasons. One was a desire to get back to the private sector before he knew that county Assessor Doug Harms would retire.
Another was a sense that he had achieved one of his top goals as a legislator for the past decade by getting the water bond before voters.
The polar extremes in Sacramento weren't doing much to keep him there, either.
"People used to pretty well at least acknowledge when you had worked hard and tried to accomplish something," he said. "Now you just don't get past the label -- 'You're a legislator. You're worthless.' "
Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2366.