RICHMOND (AP) — The governor's office says a Democratic state senator is resigning, giving Republicans a one-seat advantage in the chamber in the middle of a bitter battle between the parties over Medicaid expansion.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy says Sen. Phil Puckett (D-39th District) notified the governor's office Saturday that he's stepping down.
Republican Delegate Terry Kilgore says the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization's executive committee is considering giving Puckett a staff job. Kilgore is the chairman of the commission.
Senate Democratic Leader Richard Saslaw says Puckett's resignation will be effective Monday.
"I am deeply disappointed by this news and the uncertainty it creates at a time when 400,000 Virginians are waiting for access to quality health care, especially in Southwest Virginia. This situation is unacceptable, but the bipartisan majority in the Senate and I will continue to work hard to put Virginians first and find compromise on a budget that closes the coverage gap," McAuliffe said in a news release Sunday evening.
McAuliffe favors widening the health care program for the poor.
Citizens group Americans for Prosperity said, “With Senator Puckett’s resignation, Senators Hanger, Stosch and Watkins now undeniably hold the key to preventing a government shutdown in Virginia. There are only a few weeks to go before 8.1 million Virginians are denied funding for our schools and our safety, and it is only a matter of time before Governor McAuliffe’s Washington-style shutdown politics devastate our AAA credit rating and our business climate. With the clock ticking, AFP-Virginia and our 70,000 activists are strongly urging Senators Hanger, Stosch and Watkins to join the majority of Commonwealth citizens who oppose Medicaid expansion and who want a budget by agreeing to pass a clean spending bill and avoiding disaster.”
ProgressVA, a consumer advocacy group, questioned the deal.
"Virginians deserve answers over the next days over how state jobs were used as leverage in a political fight over extending affordable health care to Virginia families. Right now, it’s hard to decide who to be more disgusted with: Delegate Kilgore and his GOP colleagues who seem to be treating the Tobacco Commission as their own personal slush fund or Senator Puckett, who apparently has prioritized his personal interests over the best interests of his constituents," said Anna Scholl, the group's executive director.
Puckett could not be immediately reached for comment.