The Hammer Falls, the Deficit Grows

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Drama is nothing new in politics, and certainly not in state budget standoffs. But you've got to take your hat off to Republicans in the state Senate after the midnight massacre, where now former leader Sen. Dave Cogdill was unceremoniously shown the door. In his place, the caucus chose Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, the vice-chairman of the upper house's budget committee and a senator termed out of office in 2010.

The chatter (or, twitter, as it were) began just after 10:00 p.m. and the deed was done a couple of hours later. Republican senators confirmed that Hollingsworth was one of two final candidates, the other being Sen. Jeff Denham of Merced.

But the choice of a new leader, while reportedly unanimous among those present, wasn't unanimous when counting the entire 15 GOP senators. Aside from Cogdill, three others left the meeting early and did not vote for the new top man: Sen. Abel Maldonado, Sen. Dave Cox, and Sen. Roy Ashburn.

Those names sound familiar? Yep, two of the three of those senators are believed to be the final votes for the $41 billion budget package now before the Legislature.

So now what? "There is a very large amount of work to do," Hollingsworth said as he emerged from the caucus meeting early this morning. Later this morning, the new leader made it clear he's working to scuttle the deal as it now exists.

But to really understand where we are, and how we got here, it's worth considering the candid words of the deposed leader, who first walked out of his office (the minority leader's suite, which we assume he'll soon be moving out of) and broke the news to the media.

Cogdill was never known for being very talkative with reporters, and yet last night he painted a pretty clear picture of the last few weeks. In particular, he made it clear that he always knew the budget wouldn't be one that Republicans could control given their minority status. And yet, he still thinks this is the right deal.

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And, though he's a fiscal conservative, he made it clear he doesn't think Republicans can get any better a deal than what's on the table:

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Sen. Cogdill also made it clear that he thought the budget was a done deal when the agreement was struck... that he had two other Republican votes plus his.

So what next? Who knows. It's hard to remember a time where a caucus leader comes in to fight against a presumed deal in the 11th hour. Might Hollingsworth now search for ways to keep at least two of the Repubicans from voting for the budget (it would seem tough for him to have much sway with Cogdill at this point). The situation calls to mind the 2003 threat made by then Senate GOP leader Jim Brulte to campaign against any GOP legislator who voted for a tax increase.

In the meantime, the deficit fears grow across state government. A spokesperson for Controller John Chiang says a delay into next week will likely force Chiang to announce new ways to preserve dwindling cash reserves for core state services.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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