Puckett had planned on taking a new job as deputy of the state tobacco commission, an appointed position controlled by Republicans. Puckett’s seat in the state senate was also preventing his daughter, a provisional juvenile court judge, from receiving confirmation as a permanent appointment, and Puckett cited this as his official reason for resigning.
Puckett has since declined the tobacco commission job, but his resignation still leaves the state senate in Republican control as Virginia prepares to adopt a budget. At stake is the expansion of Medicaid, granting coverage to 400,000 poor Virginians. The Affordable Care Act left some people in a gap, too rich to qualify for Medicaid but too poor to pay for healthcare. Some states expanded Medicaid to help address this, but Republican-controlled states refused. Still, enrollment in Medicaid is growing even in states that didn’t expand the program as previously eligible residents sign up for the first time.
Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, elected last November, has promised to reject any budget that failed to expand the program. But without Puckett, Democrats are impotent. The legislature reconvenes on Thursday—in the meantime, McAuliffe has been exploring ways of expanding the program without the legislature.
The region Puckett represented leans Republican, and his resignation means a likely Republican replacement. Huffington Post is already comparing the move to a plot from House of Cards, while Salon sees it as another example of Republicans playing dirty when their positions prove unpopular.
The only thing Virginians can do now is place the blame on Phillip P. Puckett.