Bi-Partisan Effort to Close California Budget Gap Recognized at 2010 JFK Profile in Courage Awards

For Immediate Release: May 24, 2010
Further information: Rachel Day (617) 514-1662,

Boston MA – The four members of California’s legislative leadership who in 2009 led a bi-partisan effort to close the state’s devastating budget deficit were presented the prestigious John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ today by Caroline Kennedy at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. 

Karen Bass, California State Assembly Member, and former Democratic Speaker of the Assembly; David Cogdill, California State Senator and former Senate Republican Leader; Darrell Steinberg, California State Senator and Democratic Senate President pro Tem; and Michael Villines, California State Assembly Member and former Assembly Republican Leader, were recognized for the political courage each demonstrated in standing up to the extraordinary constituent and party pressure they faced while working with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to address California’s severe financial crisis.

“My father believed very deeply that politics is a noble profession, because it often demands courage to act in the public interest when party politics and public opinion encourage a different course,” said Caroline Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. “Faced with a budget crisis of unprecedented magnitude, Karen Bass, Dave Cogdill, Darrell Steinberg and Mike Villines had the courage to negotiate a compromise that they believed was in the best interest of the citizens of California.

“They knew their agreement would have painful and far-reaching consequences for California and its people,” Kennedy continued. “They knew their compromise would be taken as a betrayal of their constituents, their political parties, and their own principles and ideals. But they took seriously their responsibility to govern. They knew it was more important to try to solve the problem than to stand on politics or even on principle. They stood by their decision and accepted the consequences of it. 

“We honor these legislative leaders for their faithful stewardship of their offices and their willingness to act even when all the choices before them were painful and profoundly unpopular,” Kennedy said. “In a democratic society, where political careers are made or broken with every election, this is the essence of political courage.”

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences. The award is named for President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers, incurring the wrath of constituents or powerful interest groups, by taking principled stands for unpopular positions. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created the Profile in Courage Award™ in 1989 to honor President Kennedy’s commitment and contribution to public service. It is presented in May in celebration of President Kennedy’s May 29th birthday. The Profile in Courage Award is represented by a sterling-silver lantern symbolizing a beacon of hope. The lantern was designed by Edwin Schlossberg and crafted by Tiffany & Co.

2010 Profile in Courage Award Recipients
Karen Bass, David Cogdill, Darrell Steinberg, and Michael Villines

2008 was a year of brutal fiscal crisis for the state of California. Battered by an imploding economy and wary of implementing major tax increases or massive cuts to vital programs, the California legislature spent the summer of 2008 in a deadlock over how to close a projected $15 billion budget deficit. But even as the legislature struggled to address the crisis and pass a budget by the two-thirds supermajority required by California law, the state’s financial health deteriorated. As the U.S. economy cratered, the revenue assumptions that formed the basis of the budget negotiations fell apart. By January 2009, California’s projected deficit had grown to $40 billion. In February 2009, the rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded California’s bond rating to A, the lowest of any state in the nation.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called the legislature into special session to close the gap, and over the next few weeks, state lawmakers struggled to come to terms with the fiscal emergency. The February 2009 special legislative session was one of the most contentious in the state’s history. After weeks of negotiations, seeing no alternatives, Dave Cogdill, Mike Villines, Karen Bass and Darrell Steinberg – two Republicans and two Democrats – set aside party loyalties and ideological differences and agreed to a deal intended to pull California back from the brink of financial ruin. The compromise included tax increases, which set off an intense backlash among conservative constituents and activists, and deep cuts to vital programs, which brought bitter criticism from labor unions, environmental groups, state employees and social service providers.

The deal that resulted from the marathon negotiations contained “something for everyone to hate.” Under California law, full implementation of the budget deal required voter approval in a special statewide referendum. The four legislative leaders who brokered the agreement spent the spring of 2009 in a joint public campaign to convince voters of the urgent need for the difficult, painful measures called for in the proposed budget. Despite their efforts, California voters defeated the budget referendum in May 2009. In June and July of that year, unable to meet its financial obligations any other way, the state of California began issuing high-interest IOUs to vendors in lieu of payment. In 2010, California’s fiscal crisis is ongoing and the state continues to struggle with a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit.
This year’s recipients of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s prestigious award for political courage were selected by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. Al Hunt, executive Washington editor of Bloomberg News, chairs the 13-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi); Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund; Kenneth R. Feinberg, Chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Antonia Hernandez, president and chief executive officer of the California Community Foundation; Elaine Jones, former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Paul G. Kirk, Jr., former U.S. Senator (D-Massachusetts) and Chairman Emeritus of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Shari Redstone, President, National Amusements, Inc; John Seigenthaler, founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University; David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); and Patricia M. Wald, former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. David McKean, chief executive officer of the Kennedy Library Foundation, staffs the Committee. Mr. McKean is the former Staff Director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Presidential Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.  For more information about the Profile in Courage Award and the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, visit