Dems Concerned for Medicaid Expansion after Senator's Resignation

By: Chris Stover Email
By: Chris Stover Email

June 9, 2014

After 16 years on the job, a Democratic state senator says he's stepping down from his position, sending shockwaves through Virginia's political community at a time when state budget negotiations are tense.

"Yeah, essentially this came out of nowhere," said Geoff Skelley of UVa.'s Center for Politics. "Completely turns things on its head in Richmond."

State Sen. Phil Puckett of the 38th District announced his sudden resignation from the seat he's held for 16 years.

"It is extremely surprising and very disappointing that Sen. Puckett would resign in this fashion," said Del. David Toscano (D-57th District), the House Minority Leader.

State Democrats, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, are worried now about Medicaid expansion, the issue that has forced the deadlock among legislators. Democrats want it included in the budget, while many Republcians oppose it.

"Now, there will be 20 Republicans and 19 Democrats. It's too early for us to know what all the moving parts will be, but obviously this will impact the budget impasse," said Del. Rob Bell (R-58th District). "We've been locked up on a budget for almost three months. We hope this will make it possible to pass a budget in the near future."

Now that Republicans have a one-seat advantage in the House, there are still questions regarding how the budget vote could go. At last count, three Republicans join Democrats in their support for Medcaid expansion.

But Puckett's resignation could have long-term effects.

"What's worse probably for Democrats is that not only do they lose the majority, but they have no chance of winning this seat," Skelley said, in reference to a future special election.

Puckett said in a letter to constituents that he stepped down for both personal reasons and to allow his daughter to be appointed to a judgeship. That's something not permitted in the General Assembly for relatives of state legislators.

Puckett also maintains there are enough Senate votes, even without his, to close the Medicaid gap. In the letter, he was denied that Republicans offered him a paid job at the state tobacco commission in exchange for his resignation.

Letter from State Sen. Phil Puckett:

On Saturday, June 7, I mailed a letter to Senator Charles Colgan, President Pro Tempore of the Senate of Virginia resigning from my position as Senator of the 38th district effective June 9, 2014.

I have been grateful for the opportunity to serve my constituents from Southwest Virginia for the past sixteen years. And, my family has sacrificed greatly to allow me to serve, especially
considering how far we live from the state Capitol. But that family sacrifice is now too great.

Due to recent developments in our family, I feel I should be more available to them. They have supported me during the sixteen years that I have served the people of Virginia and now I will
devote my time to them.

My daughter, who is an established attorney in Russell County has been appointed by area judges to serve in a temporary capacity as a juvenile court judge. She cannot be confirmed into the position permanently as long as I serve in the General Assembly. My colleagues on both sides of the aisle acknowledge that she is fully qualified for the position. At this point in my life, I feel that I cannot allow my political career to hamper my daughter's future and her desire to serve the families and children of our area on the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. While I regret the circumstances, I stand by the ethical rule that generally prohibits the appointment of judges who are directly related to sitting legislators.

But this is not the sole reason for my resignation. My family is dealing with several difficult issues that need our attention. These are private matters and I ask that you respect our privacy
in working through them as a family.

As a State Senator representing the 38th Senatorial district, I strongly supported the Senate budget and Medicaid Expansion and defended those who were without healthcare. I voted with my colleagues in a bipartisan 23-17 vote. My resignation now leaves that vote at 22-17 and remains as a favorable status for the budget and Medicaid Expansion in the Senate. It is my heartfelt prayer that the General Assembly will be able to close the gap for healthcare coverage for all Virginians.

Some reports have suggested that I am resigning to accept paid employment with the Virginia Tobacco Commission. Those reports are incorrect. I have never been officially offered a job by the Tobacco Commission.

As stated previously, I have resigned from the Senate of Virginia due to the recent issues that have developed in our family and require our full attention, I ask again that you accept my decision and give us the privacy that we desire, to work through these important issues.

Respectfully Submitted,
Phillip P. Puckett

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