Politics & Policy

‘Straight Up Bribe’ Is Neither Straightup Nor Bribe

Former Virginia State Senator Phillip Puckett
Democrats devour their own in rural Virginia.

Virginia state senator Phillip Puckett, who is being vilified by Democrats for giving up his seat in Richmond, has been an asset to the Democratic party through two decades, in a district that has grown steadily more Republican. By rounding on Puckett, the left wing of the national party may turn a legislative setback into a permanent loss.

“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,” Puckett, a Democrat who has represented the Virginia’s 38th district since 1998, said in his resignation announcement. “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.”

The Puckett family name is attested in Tazewell County, in southwestern Virginia, as far back as 1925, and mentioned as far back as the early 19th century. Puckett’s district includes a Puckett Hollow Road. In his announcement, Puckett suggested that his family is in distress.

“But [the general-assembly policy on appointments of family members] is not the sole reason for my resignation,” he wrote. “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.” The Washington Post reported that friends of Puckett said this was a reference to a family health problem. Observers of Virginia politics told National Review Online the same.

Yet Puckett has been turned into an Old Dominion Benedict Arnold by national media.

“They come with festering cancers, rotting teeth, wheezing lungs and aching joints, lining up for hours to see the doctors who arrive with a mobile clinic to deliver health care to the most underserved of America’s poor,” the Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak wrote in her column titled “By resigning, Virginia lawmaker Phillip Puckett betrayed his own people.”

“GOP Straight Up Bribes Democratic Senator In Effort To Block Obamacare,” reported the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim and Ashley Alman. “Republicans offered to move Democratic state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett and his daughter into prestigious jobs in exchange for Puckett’s resignation,” Grim and Alman continued, “which will flip the chamber into Republican hands. Puckett officially accepted the offer on Monday, but then appeared to back away amid a public outcry.”

“I used to think Gov. Terry McAuliffe was the most venal politician among Virginia Democrats,” thought Jamelle Bouie of Slate. “But, I was wrong. That title goes to state Sen. Phillip Puckett, who resigned on Monday as part of a deal to give Republicans control of the state Senate, and thus a full veto on the Medicaid expansion.”

These claims are not accurate. There was no Republican “offer” of a job on the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. Puckett was scheduled to interview for the position of deputy director Wednesday, but he removed himself from consideration Monday. Governor Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark R. Herring, both Democrats, have declined to criticize Puckett’s decision.

“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 those in southwest Virginia,” McAuliffe said in a statement released Sunday night. “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.”

The “bipartisan majority” was a reference to three Republican state senators who have proposed a Medicaid expansion compromise.

Although McAuliffe has been pushing hard for Medicaid expansion, his proposal is solidly blocked by the Virginia House of Delegates, where Republicans hold a supermajority. McAuliffe, a high-powered Democratic operative who took office in January, had been hoping to include the expansion as part of the state’s budget. But there is no indication that, even if the 20–20 major-party split in the state senate had remained in place (With Puckett’s resignation the GOP now holds a 20–19 majority.), such a budget could have passed the House of Delegates under any circumstances.

Puckett did not respond to National Review Online’s request for comment, but the Republican leader in the state senate lashed out at the Democrat’s new critics.

“The vilification of Phil Puckett ought to be an embarrassment to the people doing that,” Senator Tommy Norment says. “The Puckett family has been an integral part of southwest Virginia, they have left their imprint there, over many years. I have known Phil Puckett for many years. I have always found him to be a very honorable, forthright gentleman. He has been a tireless advocate for southwest Virginia. I do not have respect for these individuals who are so viciously attacking him. They are entirely uninformed about the circumstances of his retirement. I hope these people apologize. And I don’t think these political hacks and criticizers are going to make a dent in the esteem that the Puckett family has built up over many years. This is not a history-altering event, and it doesn’t require the attention that it has received.”

No election date has been set to fill the 38th district seat. Republican delegate Ben Chafin is expected to run for the seat. By alienating Puckett, the Democrats risk facing that race without the blessing of a Democratic politician who has a proven ability to hold a seat in a heavily Republican district. Republican candidate for governor Ken Cuccinelli beat McAuliffe 64 percent to 30 percent in the district last year. In 2012, the district went for Mitt Romney over President Obama by 67 percent to 31 percent, and Republicans have scored more than 60 percent in the 38th district in every statewide race since 2009.

One of Puckett’s own constituents reflected Norment’s kind words. “I could see why he’s resigning, but hate to see him resign, because he’s so good for us,” Janice Miller, a volunteer at the Tazewell Historical Society, told NRO.

— Tim Cavanaugh is news editor of National Review Online. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More