Patronage: How the great Medicaid expansion battle was lost

state-capitol-headerState Senate Democrat Phil Puckett is resigning, and it appears to have to do with ongoing Republican efforts to block his daughter from a Circuit Court appointment.

And thus the great Medicaid expansion battle was lost. Basically because of patronage.

“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,” said Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a statement when the news broke Sunday evening.

But McAuliffe allowed himself to be outmaneuvered by Republicans, who also appear to have dangled a job with the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, which is chaired by Republican Del. Terry Kilgore. Kilgore told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the commission could make a move to hire Puckett for an open grant-writing and community-outreach position as early as this week.

“He’d be a great asset because he knows the region, and he’s a former banker and [the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission] said we need more follow-up, so he’d be a perfect fit for us,” Kilgore told the TD.

Democrats are trying to downplay the impact that Puckett’s resignation will have on the stalemated budget talks, pointing out in statements to the media on the news that the Medicaid expansion plan that made its way through the then-Democratically controlled State Senate had three Republicans voting with the majority.

But make no mistake about it now: as Republicans reorganize the chamber with their slim 20-19 majority, you can count on a switch in time that will doom Medicaid expansion in 2014. State Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, was already signaling his shift in attitudes, penning an op-ed published in the Augusta Free Press last month calling for lawmakers to divide the budget and Medicaid expansion issues, largely echoing a similar call from House Republicans who had been fighting McAuliffe and the State Senate on that point for months.

The battle is lost. Republicans used parliamentary tactics related to a tradition in Virginia in which judicial appointments aren’t given to family members of sitting legislators to hold off on the appointment of Puckett’s daughter, Martha P. Ketron, to a Circuit Court position against Puckett, who also seems to stand to get a job out of the deal.

Good for Phil Puckett, good for House Republicans, bad for Democrats and specifically for Terry McAuliffe, who came to Virginia politics as the henchman of the Clintons, and is now learning that dirty politics in Virginia is a whole ‘nuther level from what he might have known from his DC days.

– Column by Chris Graham


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