How The ‘Bribery’ of Sen. Puckett Will Hurt LGBTQ Virginians
It spread like wild-fire this weekend, rumors leaked to the Washington Post that VA Senator Phillip P. Puckett would resign his senate seat. For this act, the VA GOP would giving him the title of deputy director of the state tobacco commission and giving his daughter a judge’s bench seat.
While little has been confirmed, the fall out from this move is believed to lead to a government shut down over Medicaid reform here in VA – McAuliffe’s plan was rumored to be the passage of the bill in the democratic lead Senate. This would let the GOP-run house of representatives not pass it and leave the blame of a shutdown on the right.
Now, with Puckett’s resignation, the budget bill (including Medicaid expansions) is expected to fail in the senate and lead to a shut down squarely on the face of democrats.
All of this inside fighting is terrible politics in its own right, however the worst of this is sure to come in future general assembly sessions with a conservative House and Senate, especially when pro-LGBTQ bills come to the floor.
The VA Senate had been a democratic beacon of hope for LGBTQ rights despite Governor McDonnell and the always red House of Representatives. But with Puckett gone, the fragile balance between the democratic Senate and VA’s hard-right House is now out of whack and the numbers suggest it will stay that way.
We saw similar turmoil this earlier year when current AG Mark Herring’s Senate seat was up-for-grabs. A long-delayed special election and recount left the Senate with a Republican majority which killed every piece of pro-LGBTQ legislation before elected officials for 2014.
Puckett had been in his Senate seat since he was first elected in 1997. Based in rural, south-western VA’s Russell County, the chances of another democrat rising from this area are slim. in 2013, republican candidates won every possible election there, including Ken Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson. And 2012 was no better.
Puckett’s voting record wasn’t exactly stellar to begin with, according to Equality Virginia’s lobbying arm, EV Advocates. They gave the senator a score of 75 for 2013 when he voted in support of SB1074 which allowed colleges to fund clubs and groups which could discriminate in membership. 2012 wasn’t a great year for Puckett either, he received a 50 for support bills which allowed stat-funded adoption agencies to discriminate in the families they adopt to.
“It’s been a 72-hour journey” said Sen. Donald McEachin, the Democratic Caucus chair, about the Puckett decision. McEachin acknowledged the critical nature of Puckett’s seat, but remained hopeful about the state party’s ability to replace him with another democrat. “We intend to win that seat, and we intended to have control of that seat when the gavel strikes and the 2015 GA is in session.”
But no matter the outcome, McEachin said the remaining democratic members of the senate were enough to stay the growth of any anti-LGBTQ legislation.
“We still have the AG, the Lt. Gov, and The Governor all who are committed to equality and the fair treatment of all Virginian’s citizens… we still have the veto, and we still have sufficient numbers in the senate to maintain a governor’s veto.”
However Democratic activists are less optimistic. Lowell, a contributor to BlueVirginia.us, a left-leaning VA politics blog who called the outgoing senator “Benedict Puckett,” was pretty clear in his dismay at this weekends events and the outcome of future elections for Puckett’s replacement.
“Unfortunately that district is verrrry “red” at this point – (e.g., 2:1 Cuccinelli, 2:1 EW Jackson),” Lowell wrote in an email to GayRVA. “I just don’t see any way we hold that seat.”
Even if McEachin is right about the left’s ability to keep a veto-vote in the Senate, stopping the growth of anti-LGBTQ legislation through veto is no replacement for expanding equality in the Commonwealth.
The specifics of replacing Puckett are still being worked out and we will provide updates as they arise.
Two bills that would allow businesses to discriminate against Virginia’s LGBTQ community were joined into one Senate bill Monday afternoon in Senate General Laws and Technology subcommittee. While a House version of the bill, HB 773, was heard today, the subcommittee joined it with SB 41 by a 8-7 vote across party lines. SB 41, introduced [...]February 22, 2016
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