Sen. Dave Cogdill: He dared to agree with the ‘other side’

In today’s hyper-charged political environment, former state Sen. Republican leader Dave Cogdill was an anomaly: A leader of a political party who dared talk with, and work with, the “other side.”

As a result, it was not surprising to see politicians from both sides of the political aisle praise his leadership when they learned of his untimely passing last Sunday:

• “He always put California’s interest above party.” Gov. Jerry Brown

• “A true public servant who put the people above all else.” Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

• “A principled leader who put people above politics and helped save California.” Former State Sen. Pro Tem (Democratic Leader) Darrell Steinberg

• “He served with honor and courage.” State Sen. Republican leader Patricia Bates

Perhaps Harvard’s JFK Library said it best about the 2010 “Profile in Courage Award” honoree: He “set an example for our country and dared to agree.”

Make no mistake about it: Sen. Cogdill was a Republican. The only calculus that mattered more to him were the implications for our valley, state and nation. He showed that having the courage of your convictions and the courage to compromise are not mutually exclusive, but rather that unique combination of traits that separates an ordinary “politician” from an extraordinary “statesman.”

The most often cited example of Sen. Cogdill’s political courage occurred in 2009 during the midst of the state’s fiscal crisis when the state’s finances were being ravaged by the Great Recession. He, together with former Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines, did the unthinkable — and to some, the unforgivable — they worked with their Democratic counterparts to find a way out of the fiscal morass. Both ended up paying a heavy political price, eventually losing their leadership positions.

Ironically, another state leader from the valley, the late Sen. Ken Maddy, suffered a similar fate in 1995, when he was also dumped because he was viewed as not sufficiently partisan.

To partisans, the spirit of cooperation that they exemplified was unseemly. To others, it was a testament to their political courage and leadership that they eschewed easy political soundbites and did the hard work of legislating. The difference between a “show horse” and a “work horse.”

When he was chairman of the board for the non-partisan Maddy Institute in 2011 and 2012, Sen. Cogdill worked tirelessly to encourage thoughtful discussion of public policy issues and nurture the next generation of bi-partisan problem solvers in politics and government.

In 2012, for example, he singlehandedly doubled the amount raised for our Sacramento legislative intern program, giving more students from across the valley the opportunity to learn about the political process first hand. It did not matter to Sen. Cogdill whether the student worked in a Democratic or Republican office. What mattered to Sen. Cogdill was planting the seeds of the next generation of valley leaders and bi-partisan problem-solvers.

Few can say they left such a lasting legacy.

Mark Keppler is host of “The Maddy Report” and the executive director of the non-partisan Maddy Institute at Fresno State.