Richmond After 16 years on the job, a Democratic state senator says he's stepping down from his position, sending shockwaves through Virginia's political community at a time when state budget negotiations are tense.
"Yeah, essentially this came out of nowhere," said Geoff Skelley of UVa.'s Center for Politics. "Completely turns things on its head in Richmond."
State Sen. Phil Puckett of the 38th District announced his sudden resignation from the seat he's held for 16 years.
"It is extremely surprising and very disappointing that Sen. Puckett would resign in this fashion," said Del. David Toscano (D-57th District), the House Minority Leader.
State Democrats, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, are worried now about Medicaid expansion, the issue that has forced the deadlock among legislators. Democrats want it included in the budget, while many Republcians oppose it.
"Now, there will be 20 Republicans and 19 Democrats. It's too early for us to know what all the moving parts will be, but obviously this will impact the budget impasse," said Del. Rob Bell (R-58th District). "We've been locked up on a budget for almost three months. We hope this will make it possible to pass a budget in the near future."
Now that Republicans have a one-seat advantage in the House, there are still questions regarding how the budget vote could go. At last count, three Republicans join Democrats in their support for Medcaid expansion.
But Puckett's resignation could have long-term effects.
"What's worse probably for Democrats is that not only do they lose the majority, but they have no chance of winning this seat," Skelley said, in reference to a future special election.
Puckett said in a letter to constituents that he stepped down for both personal reasons and to allow his daughter to be appointed to a judgeship. That's something not permitted in the General Assembly for relatives of state legislators.
Puckett also maintains there are enough Senate votes, even without his, to close the Medicaid gap. In the letter, he was denied that Republicans offered him a paid job at the state tobacco commission in exchange for his resignation.