In memoriam: Cogdill stood tall for the Valley and California

Dave Cogdill
Dave Cogdill The Sierra Star file

Dave Cogdill, who died Sunday morning from pancreatic cancer at the age of 66, was the kind of lawmaker that California and the nation desperately needs.

He was a man of high principles and character, yet also a legislator who knew that sometimes serving your constituents’ best interests required compromise. He put people ahead of party and was one of the rare politicians whose motivation for aspiring to public office was to serve his community.

“He was the real deal. I’m going to miss him dearly,” state Sen. Tom Berryhill, a Republican from Twain Harte, posted on Twitter.

It’s no coincidence that Mr. Cogdill served as chairman of the Maddy Institute at Fresno State University in 2011-12. His style was very much in the mold of the late Kenneth L. Maddy, a Valley lawmaker who excelled at getting to know people on both sides of the aisle, learning their priorities and bringing legislators together to find solutions for thorny problems.

Mr. Cogdill’s political experience began with two terms on the Modesto City Council. He served three terms in the Assembly and then succeeded Chuck Poochigian of Fresno in 2006 as representative of the state Senate’s 14th District. Two years in, he was appointed Senate Republican leader and thereafter found himself at odds with fellow party members.

Republican lawmakers did not like the budget agreement that Mr. Cogdill and Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines of Clovis hatched with Democrats and GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009. Both Mr. Cogdill and Villines paid a heavy political price for their willingness to find middle ground. Mr. Cogdill, in fact, was ousted as the Senate Republican leader the same night as a vote on a budget that temporarily raised taxes.

While Republicans throughout the state fumed at Mr. Cogdill, others took note of his political backbone. He was awarded the Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for his actions during the 2009 budget fight, and so, too, was Villines.

Rather than return to the toxic stew of Sacramento politics, Mr. Cogdill brought his focus back to his local community. He served as the assessor of Stanislaus County from 2011 to 2013 and then became president and chief executive officer of the California Building Industry Association.

A real estate appraiser by trade, Mr. Cogdill understood both the nuances of government accounting and the challenges of running a small business. He was an expert on water issues and fought long and hard on behalf of agriculture. He stood strong for the Valley as as other lawmakers attempted to block bond money for water facilities in the 2009 legislation that was a blueprint for the Proposition 1 water bond approved by voters in 2014.

While there are Republican ideologues who never forgave Mr. Cogdill for voting to raise taxes, there are other leaders who remember him for making a difficult decision when the state budget was being ravaged by the Great Recession.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a former Democratic leader in the Senate, went to Twitter to eulogize Mr. Cogdill upon learning of his death Sunday: “Honored to call Dave Cogdill a colleague & friend. A principled leader who put people above politics & helped save California.”

“Helped save California.” How many lawmakers, Republican or Democratic, can you say that about?