Political earthquakes, like actual earthquakes, are unpredictable affairs: You never know what the landscape's going to look like when the ground stops moving.
Take, for example, the strange case of Dennis Hol-lingsworth, the Republican state senator from Murrieta whose 36th District includes parts of San Diego and Riverside counties. On Wednesday, Feb. 18, Hollingsworth was just another conservative voice crying in the wilderness of the Democrat-controlled California Senate. On Thursday, he was that body's minority leader, having successfully harnessed the tectonic energies of Sacramento's budget battle to oust Sen. Dave Cogdill of Modesto from the job.
Hollingsworth and a cadre of fellow conservative senators were furious about Cogdill's support of a state budget plan that included an estimated $41 billion in tax increases, borrowing and revenue cuts. Once in the catbird seat, Hollingsworth told reporters he planned to reopen budget negotiations and produce a document that “would not take more money out of people's pockets.”
But by day's end Thursday, the Legislature reached a budget deal after a single Republican broke ranks and voted with the Democrats. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the budget, tax hikes and all, on Sunday.
But despite bombing out on his first order of business, Hollingsworth remains at the helm of the Senate's 15-member GOP contingent. Just who is this guy whose name only a week ago was known by only the most informed political observers?
According to the Los Angeles Times, Hollingsworth, 42, was born and raised on a Riverside County dairy farm, and as a young man, sold bull semen to other dairy farmers before working as a representative to a farm and ranch association.
He's a conservative Christian who believes homosexuality is a biblically proscribed choice and once warned of a “militant, anti-family homosexual agenda now being implemented in California.” He's president of the legal defense fund for Proposition 22, an anti-gay-marriage initiative passed in 2000 (the same year Hollingsworth was first elected to state office) but later struck down by the California Supreme Court. His Senate website describes him as “an official proponent of Proposition 8.”
He had an extramarital affair in the mid-1990s with a woman he worked with at the Riverside County Farm Bureau. Hollingsworth publicly admitted to the affair in 1999, when the woman filed a worker's compensation claim alleging sexual harassment. She later dropped the claim.
Unlike some Senate Republicans who only seem far to the right in comparison with their Democratic colleagues, Hollingsworth really is a hard-right conservative. Aside from having rejected every state budget to cross his desk during eight years in the Legislature, his consistent pro-business, anti-tax and pro-gun voting record has earned him top marks from a host of conservative interest groups. In 2006, he successfully fought to have a statue of Thomas Starr King, the Unitarian minister who helped keep California from seceding during the Civil War, replaced with a statue of Ronald Reagan in the U.S. Capitol. Hollingsworth explained he had never heard of King and added that King wasn't a native of California.
Critics noted that Reagan was born in Illinois.