Why Did State Senator Puckett Really Resign?

by Kristen Day

When I first read that Virginia State Senator Phil Puckett (D-Lebanon) would resign, I was not surprised. It is not an easy task to be a pro-life Democrat in a party that continually pressures against pro-life votes and for changing one’s position on abortion.

While a loyal Democrat, Puckett provided critical votes to pass pro-life legislation in the Democratic-controlled Senate, which was not received well by abortion advocates in the party nor the Democratic leadership. His last election was one of his toughest—not because his position changed on any issues, but because Republicans were able to package him with a “pro-abortion” party.

So, while the Republicans batter him for his pro-abortion party, the Democrats batter him for, his pro-life votes. The part was disconcerted when, last April, Virginia joined a number of states that have adopted legislation to prohibit abortion coverage in state-based exchanges. Puckett provided the critical 20th vote that allowed the Republican Lieutenant Governor to vote and break the 20-20 tie in favor of the bill. Senator Puckett also provided a key vote for a bill to mandate that abortion clinics meet basic health and safety standards in Virginia.

These votes could be the reason the Democratic Party is so willing to sell the scenario that Puckett killed any chances of Medicaid expansion despite the fact that he appeared at an event with Governor Terry McAuliffe in March advocating for its passage. Other than pro-life matters, Puckett has always remained loyal to the party and its issues.

The truth is, Medicaid expansion was already dead. McAuliffe has been valiantly trying every avenue to get it passed, even seeking legal advice on the possibility of approving Medicaid expansion by executive order.  However, even with Puckett’s departure, there are still enough votes in favor of the bill in the state senate because of several Republicans publicly supporting the measure. The problem was, and still is, the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.

In addition to blaming Puckett for the demise of Medicaid expansion, Democrats are accusing Puckett of accepting a backroom deal with Republicans of jobs for himself and his daughter. Nevermind that Virginia is a part-time legislature, and he already holds a full-time job as Vice-President of Business Development for the First Bank and Trust Company in Lebanon.

Puckett cited family considerations for his resignation, and that is quite likely the major reason. One of his children, Martha, is a judge, and her ability to advance in her career was being stunted by Puckett’s position as a senator. The Virginia Senate has a policy of not confirming sitting members’ family.

Phil Puckett is a soft-spoken southern gentlemen who cares deeply about his family and the people of his district and his state.  He was born and raised in Russell County in Southwest Virginia and graduated from the University of Tennessee. He returned to Virginia to earn a master’s in Administration at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Puckett and his wife of almost four decades, Jeanette, have three children and several grandchildren of whom he is extremely proud. Knowing Phil’s commitment to his family, it could be a perfectly legitimate decision.

His other family, the Democratic Party, is not giving him the same consideration and is simply looking for a scapegoat to take the fall over the failure to pass Medicaid expansion when they need look no further than the Republican-controlled House. Again, the votes are there in the Senate with or without Puckett.

I wonder if Phil Puckett is thinking what many former Democrats have said, “I did not leave my party, my party left me.”  Yes, they did, Senator.  They hung you out to dry.