What’s wrong with Puckett’s resignation?

Further to the matter of Sen. Phil Puckett’s retirement, I want to play out the shades of inappropriateness here. While what he has done clearly feels wrong (allegedly quitting his seat in the Senate of Virginia in exchange for a job running a state-chartered organization and a judgeship for his daughter, all done immediately prior to the deadline for the legislature to hold a vote on the budget, in which his absence will give Republicans a one-member majority and the ability to prevent healthcare reform), I think it’s worth exploring what about it is wrong.

Imagine that Sen. Puckett had sold his vote. In exchange for $150,000 in cash, he would vote against a budget that included healthcare reform. Any reasonable person would regard that as wrong.

Imagine that Sen. Puckett had sold his non-vote. In exchange for $150,000 in cash, he would take a walk when the bill came up for a vote. I think that any reasonable person would regard that as wrong, too.

Imagine that Sen. Puckett had sold his absence. In exchange for $150,000 in cash, he would make sure that he was thousands of miles away when the legislature reconvened to hold the vote. I also think that any reasonable person would regard that as wrong.

Now imagine that Sen. Puckett sold his resignation. In exchange for $150,000, he would quit so that he could not cast a vote on the budget bill. Many reasonable people would regard that as wrong.

And now we have the alleged reality, of Sen. Puckett selling his resignation in exchange for perhaps $150,000 annually, so that he could not cast a vote on a budget bill. Many reasonable people would also regard that as wrong.

In that real-life scenario, we have two possible parties who might have done something wrong. First, we have Sen. Puckett, who may or may not have intended to quit in order to prevent a vote from happening—he might argue that he simply quit the legislature for a tantalizing job offer that was only available within a small window, but that he couldn’t have held while also serving in the legislature. Puckett of course knew that his resignation would prevent him from voting on the most important bill before the legislature, and unless he is a very stupid man, he would have known that Kilgore was offering him the job so that he could not cast that vote. Then we have Del. Terry Kilgore, the chair of the tobacco commission, who offered Puckett the job. Kilgore likewise knew what Puckett’s resignation would mean. I suspect that two key questions here these: Did Kilgore intend to prevent Puckett from voting on the budget bill by offering him a job? And did Puckett intend to not vote on the budget bill in exchange for accepting a job?

Kilgore, of course, thinks that he’s being clever by saying that he never offered Puckett a job, but that “if he’s available, we would like to have him.” This is almost certainly bullshit, which I define as meaning that the statement is a) untrue, b) Kilgore knows that it’s untrue, and c) we know it to be untrue. It insults our collective intelligence to claim that Puckett resigned from the Senate of Virginia on the vague hope of a job heading the tobacco commission. (Or, at least, it insults Puckett.) And that leads us to the third key question: Have Puckett and Kilgore already negotiated the terms of employment for the tobacco commission?

If state investigators look into a violation of § 18.2-447, they’re going to get records of communications between Puckett and Kilgore. If they actually struck a deal here, and they didn’t have the good sense to only negotiate the terms privately and in-person (making discovery impossible), this could get ugly, and fast. On the other hand, if they’re aboveboard and have any sense, they made sure that all negotiations occurred in the presence of attorneys, and were done either exclusively by writing or were recorded as audio or video.

Evidence has a way of disappearing. I hope investigators are looking into this.

5 thoughts on “What’s wrong with Puckett’s resignation?”

  1. What about his daughter who can’t get a judge appt while dad is in Senate? How does that play into this? I would think he would resign for his daughter’s success; I probably would for my kid. Whar would you do?

  2. I think there’s a plausible, likely explanation for that one, which is why I’m not focusing on it so much. If, indeed, the Senate prohibits appointing a family member of any sitting member (I have no idea if that’s true), then that could certainly have something to do with his decision.

    That said… Since all that remains in this dragged-out pseudo-session (since they’re not actually physically in the chamber or anything) is to pass a budget, then they’re not liable to be approving any more judges, right? In which case, why resign during the session? His daughter wouldn’t be up for consideration until next January. He could have resigned in a week or a month or six months, and it wouldn’t have made any difference to his daughter.

    In short, his resignation to allow his daughter to receive a vote on an appointment is plausible. But his resignation at this crucial moment to allow his daughter to receive a vote seems less plausible as a pure motive, if I understand properly how the session will proceed from here.

  3. I believe there is a special ring of Hell awaiting a politician who would buy his baby girl a judgeship at the price of 20,000 poor constituents health care coverage.

  4. For the record, Sen. Creigh Deeds wrote this in the constituent newsletter that he sent out this morning:

    [I]n recent years Senator Puckett has maintained a focus on helping appoint his daughter to the bench. Republicans denied him the 21st vote necessary to have her elected as a judge based on a supposed tradition of the Senate not appointing family members to the bench. While I think such a policy makes sense, history suggests there is no such tradition. In the 1990s, former Delegate Ward Armstrong’s brother was appointed to the district court bench. Later, former Delegate Joe Johnson’s son went on the district court bench and was elevated a few years later to the circuit bench. I have never known of another senator to have a family member considered for a judgeship, but it is clear that there is no such tradition with respect to members of the General Assembly.

  5. “Phillip: Terry spoke to us today about announcing your role w/ the Commission in conjunction with what he said is your intention to announce your Senate plans tomorrow, I implored him to ‘decouple’ those announcements for the sake of the appearance of the Commission manipulating the Senate balance of power and starting WW3 w/ the Governor’s administration.

    Virginia Tobacco Commission Interim Executive Director Tim Pfohl

Comments are closed.