And the Hypocritical Horse-Trading You Rode In On

Posted: Oct 12, 2014 12:01 AM

A funny thing happened on the way to Medicaid expansion in Virginia: it didn’t happen.

Governor Terry McAuliffe demanded expansion. The Washington Post and other state-worshiping media outlets insisted on its passage. The Post explained, “there remains only one reasonable solution: Republicans must ultimately compromise on expanding Medicaid.”

But Republican legislators stood strong in the face of months of pressure — proving that it is, indeed, possible for them to maintain their principles.

After a long legislative tug-of-war seemingly headed toward a government shutdown, the state senate suddenly flipped. It went from evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, 20-20, to Republican-controlled, 20-19, when Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell) surprisingly resigned his seat.

No shutdown. Stalemate over. Republicans had the votes and Democrats were forced to abandon their demands for expanded Medicaid spending.

Or, as an editorial in The Washington Post put it: “Critically, by shifting the power balance in Richmond, Puckett’s resignation dashed Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) hopes of forging a legislative compromise to expand Medicaid under Obamacare and extend health insurance to hundreds of thousands of low-income Virginians.”

You see, when McAuliffe and the Democrats get their way, it’s deemed a “compromise.” When they don’t, well . . . there may be repercussions.

Democrats quickly cried foul at the circumstances behind Sen. Puckett’s departure, claiming that Republicans had “essentially bribed” Puckett. After all, he gave up his seat by the Republicans’ dangling in front of the statesman a job on the state’s Tobacco Commission (an agency handing out gobs of cash from the state’s share of the tobacco settlement) and a judgeship for his daughter.

Gov. McAuliffe called Sen. Puckett “despicable” for relinquishing his senate seat.

A liberal group, ProgressVA, demanded an investigation. Obama’s Department of Justice quickly obliged, launching an FBI probe and a federal grand jury.

Why not? Let’s get to the bottom of the matter.

It turns out we don’t have to dig deep. Half of the alleged quid pro quo can be innocently enough explained.

Indeed, the deal, so-called, was made completely out in the open. Senate Republicans have a longstanding and very public policy of not confirming any relative of a sitting legislator for a judicial post. Puckett’s daughter, Martha Puckett Ketron, is already serving as a juvenile court judge on a temporary basis, awaiting confirmation for a more permanent position, which would likely come whenever her father left the legislature. The Republican-controlled House of Delegates has twice confirmed Ketron for that post.

One can certainly disagree with the Senate GOP’s policy, but to suggest it is tantamount to bribery isn’t just a stretch, it’s a break with reality.

Puckett’s statement upon his resignation also expressed that his family was facing some “difficult issues.” According to news reports, several people close to Puckett said the issues were medical. Democrat Sen. Richard Saslaw defended Puckett explaining, “There’s some personal issues involved,” and “There was never any deal. . . .

Moreover, legal experts suggest that even if Republicans did offer a job on the crony Tobacco Commission should Puckett leave the state senate, that isn’t a crime. “It may look crass and it may look underhanded and political,” argued Stanley Brand, a criminal defense attorney and a former counsel for Congress, “but that doesn’t make it a crime.”

Likewise, Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring, a Democrat, has made it clear that his office will not investigate.

Which, it turns out, may be quite popular now with the very Democrats screaming for a criminal prosecution of Republicans. Weeks ago, it was discovered that Gov. McAuliffe’s chief of staff had called then-Senator Puckett with his own qualified quid pro quo. “Hey Senator,” his offer began. “This is Paul Reagan again. I just wanted to bounce one idea off you. I know there was a lot of frustration with your daughter, not, you know, getting a judgeship or something. If there’s something that we can do for her, I mean, you know, we have a couple of big agencies here that we still need agency heads. We could potentially, potentially, subject to approval of the governor and so forth, you know, the department of mines, minerals and energy could be available. So we would be very eager to accommodate her, if, if that would be helpful in keeping you in the senate. We, we would basically do anything.”

The governor’s spokesman was quick to assure the public that Gov. McAuliffe had no knowledge whatsoever of his office’s communication with Puckett, adding, as well, “Any comparison between Mr. Reagan’s concern for the political treatment that Mr. Puckett and his family were receiving and the recent scandals are wholly without merit.”

We learned this week that another high-ranking Democrat, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, had also called Puckett’s son, Joe, just days prior to the state senator’s resignation. “My client, Joseph Puckett, received a phone call from Senator Warner, in which there was discussion of a CGI [job] or a federal judgeship for the sister,” acknowledged Puckett’s attorney.

Warner’s spokesman retorted that the U.S. Senator “did not offer any job nor would he nor could he, frankly.” Instead, Warner “brainstormed” about possible jobs for Joseph Puckett’s sister and the state senator’s daughter.

“There is acrimony, a federal investigation and blatant hypocrisy — especially by the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D),” editorialized The Washington Post. “Prosecutors seem to be parsing where to draw the line between bribery and politics as usual. They should take care not to criminalize horse-trading, which is not to say voters should not be disgusted by it.”

Don’t worry. We’re disgusted.