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Puckett cites family issues, daughter's judgeship as reasons for resignation from Virginia Senate

By Tim Saunders, tsaunders@wdbj7.com
Published On: Jun 08 2014 10:16:56 PM EDT
Updated On: Jun 09 2014 06:47:20 PM EDT

Puckett's resignation sparked an angry reaction from supporters of Medicaid expansion, and left lawmakers wondering how his exit will affect the stalemate over the state budget

ROANOKE, Va. -

Sen. Phil Puckett says he resigned his position in the Virginia Senate so his daughter can be approved as a juvenile court judge, Puckett wrote in a statement that was released Monday. Puckett also cited personal family issues as another reason why he resigned.

His daughter, who lives in Russell County, could not be confirmed while Puckett was a member of the General Assembly.

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," Puckett wrote in a statement released Monday. "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."

Published reports on Sunday indicated that Puckett resigned to accept a job with the Virginia Tobacco Commission. In the statement, Puckett denied that.

"Those reports are incorrect. I have never been officially offered a job by the Tobacco Commission," Puckett wrote.

Here is the entire statement:

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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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 notified the governor's office Saturday that he's stepping down.

Puckett could not be immediately reached for comment.

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.

McAuliffe's office said in a statement Sunday that he was deeply disappointed by the resignation of a fellow Democrat and the uncertainty that creates around expanding Medicaid. McAuliffe favors widening the health care program for the poor.

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A veteran state senator from Southwest Virginia is expected to resign Monday, according to published reports and statements from fellow lawmakers.

State Senator Phillip Puckett, a Democrat from Russell County, has represented the 38th district since 1998.  While Puckett has not released a formal statement regarding his intentions, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and multiple Republican state legislators are commenting on the expected departure.

"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," said McAulliffe.  "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."

Puckett's resignation would give Republicans a 20-19 majority in the Virginia Senate at a time when McAuliffe is trying to expand Medicaid through the state budget.  Virginia lawmakers have been unable to reach an agreement on a new spending plan for 2014-15, largely due to a partisan disagreement over Medicaid.