Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

June 11, 2014

Phillip Puckett: Legacy shouldn’t be lost amid debate

— — The surprise resignation of veteran Southwest Virginia lawmaker Phillip Puckett has certainly captured the attention of the Commonwealth, and even the focus of national political pundits. And it certainly has statewide political ramifications as it relates to the ongoing dispute over whether to expand the federal Medicaid program in Virginia under the new Affordable Care law.

Puckett’s resignation Monday gives Republicans a one-seat advantage in the state Senate — at least for the moment. Prior to his resignation, Democrats controlled the Senate, and were at odds with the Republican controlled House over whether to accept federal dollars for the Medicaid expansion.

With Republicans now controlling both the House and the Senate — albeit by a slim margin in the Senate — Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe may have lost his leverage against the Republican-controlled House of Delegates in his push to expand Medicaid under the new law dubbed Obamacare by critics. And suddenly the prospects of a state government shutdown come July 1 appear slimmer. That is a good thing, as local county governments and school systems need clarity as it relates to state funding.

Puckett’s resignation means there will be 20 Republicans to 19 Democrats in the Senate. A special election will have to be scheduled to fill the Senate vacancy created by Puckett’s resignation in the 38th senatorial district. Puckett — a popular Democrat — had held the 38th district seat since 1999 when former Democrat Jack Reasor retired. But in recent years — thanks, in part, to President Barack Obama’s unpopular war on coal — the legislative district has become increasingly Republican. That means it could be difficult for another Democrat to win again in the district.

But amid all of the political debate and controversy associated with Puckett’s abrupt decision to resign, we should not forget his legacy. Puckett has been a friend and steadfast supporter of Southwest Virginia for more than 16 years. He has been a strong voice for our area in Richmond. His resignation is a loss for our region.

Puckett is citing family reasons for his decision. He says his daughter is an established attorney in Russell County, and has been appointed by area judges to serve in a temporary capacity as a juvenile court judge. But, he says, she cannot be confirmed into the position permanently as long as he serves as a lawmaker in the General Assembly due to ethical rules that generally prohibit the appointment of judges who are directly related to sitting legislators. Puckett also is disputing media reports that have suggested he resigned in order to accept paid employment with the Virginia Tobacco Commission. He says he has never officially been offered a job by the tobacco commission. He added, that his family is dealing with “several difficult issues that need our attention.” Puckett says they are private matters, and is asking for privacy as his family works through the issues.

As Puckett makes the slow transition from public official to former lawmaker, we should abide by his request for privacy. And we thank him for his 16 years of service to Southwest Virginia.

With that being said, let the race to nominate political candidates for the 38th senatorial district — and ultimately a special election to fill the Senate vacancy — begin.

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