The resignation of Virginia Democratic State Senator Phil Puckett threw this year’s budget battle into chaos – almost certainly ensuring an end to Democrat Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s push for Medicaid expansion, while giving control of the state Senate to Republicans after 6 months of Democrat control.
The Huffington Post ran with the headline: “GOP Straight Up Bribes Democratic Senator In Effort To Block Obamacare.” Writing at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick accused Puckett and Senate Republicans of a quid pro quo, noting: “Until we know more about the deal itself, it’s difficult to say much about the legal questions beyond the fact that it stinks pretty badly.” The liberal blog ThinkProgress ran the headline: “A lawmaker may have just accepted an illegal bribe in order to flip the Virginia Senate to the GOP.” Initial details suggested that Puckett was resigning for a position on the state tobacco commission and that his daughter would receive a permanent appointment to a judgeship.
But this should be nothing new to Democrats. In fact, they may feel like they are looking into a mirror. During the 2013 gubernatorial campaign in Virginia, a longtime Republican consultant and advisor to then-Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) – Boyd Marcus – broke with the state Republican Party and endorsed Terry McAuliffe for governor over Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Marcus’s move to the Democrat camp shocked Virginia Republicans. In exchange, Gov. Terry McAuliffe attempted to appoint Marcus to a lucrative six-figure position on the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Unfortunately for Marcus, he would never get to collect his 30 pieces of silver – Republicans in the General Assembly blocked his nomination.
In the state of Missouri, Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon has used the allure of cushy state jobs to reward Republican legislators for bad votes and whittle away at the Republican super-majorities in the state House and Senate. Following the 2013 attempt to override Gov. Nixon’s veto of a tax cut bill, the governor announced that he would be appointing State Rep. Dennis Fowler – a Republican – to the state parole board and ending the Republican super-majority in the House. Rep. Fowler was one of 15 House Republicans to vote against the override – effectively killing the tax cut that year. Did Democrats cry “quid pro quo” then? No.
A group of California GOP lawmakers reaped great rewards for backing one of the largest tax increases in history. State Senator Abel Maldonado, a Taxpayer Protection Pledge signer, broke his pledge to his constituents and voted for the behemoth tax increase. His reward? When the Lt. Governor’s office became vacant, Maldonado was tapped to fill it. The L.A. Times pointed out that two other lawmakers were richly rewarded for their vote: “Former Assemblyman Anthony Adams was appointed to the Board of Parole Hearings — a job that pays more than $111,000 a year. Former Assemblyman Mike Villines was appointed to a $40,000-a-year job on the Central Valley Flood Protection Board.”
This is just legislative hardball – something Democrats have practiced for a long time. Honestly, it is about time Republicans woke up and started playing too. Medicaid expansion could leave the Commonwealth of Virginia in fiscal ruin. Arkansas, which passed a watered down version of Medicaid expansion dubbed the “Private Option” has already seen their program blow federal cost caps. Lawmakers there are already seeking a federal bailout for cost overruns.
Senator Puckett’s resignation and any supposed quid pro quo is different from the cases in Missouri and California. Instead of being rewarded for hiking taxes or voting against a tax cut, he may very well have just saved Virginia taxpayers from a budget-busting Medicaid expansion.