PUCKETT RESIGNATION - WFXG FOX54 Augusta - Your News One Hour Earlier

Democratic state senator resigns amidst budget battle

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

Democratic Virginia Senator Phillip Puckett (D- Russell County) has resigned, making for what could be a significant game-changer in the state's budget battle.

Senator Puckett submitted his letter of resignation Monday. His resignation shifts control of the state Senate over to Republicans, who now outnumber the Democrats by one seat.

Senator Puckett gave up his seat referring vaguely to "issues that have recently developed." Puckett states he believes resigning is the best thing to do for himself and his family.

Democrats, like Delegate Jennifer McClellan, were floored at the news.

"Disappointing. Obviously, sorry to see Senator Puckett leave, when we're right in the middle of the budget negotiations, and Medicaid expansion talks," said Delegate McClellan.

The move reportedly comes as Puckett's daughter is hoping to be appointed a state judgeship. The legislature won't name Martha Puckett Ketron as a judge, if her father is part of the vote. Republicans appear to support Puckett's stepping down.

"Since the legislature appoints judges, we have been pretty strict about not moving up family members. So, for (Puckett) to make a sacrifice for his daughter, I would have to say I respect him for that," said Republican Delegate John O'Bannon, who says he's known Puckett for years.

Puckett was also in talks with the state's Tobacco Commission to take on a paid position. The commission is chaired by Republican Terry Kilgore. Puckett's potential hire didn't sit well with colleagues on the left side of the isle.

"If that's true, it's rather disappointing, that rather than trying to close the (healthcare) coverage gap, that folks are working on backroom deals...But I'm not going to speculate as to why (Puckett resigned)," said McClellan.

A statement just released from Delegate Kilgore acknowledges that Puckett was interested, but states he's no longer vying for that spot.

"A short while ago, I learned that Senator Puckett is no longer interested in a position with the Tobacco Commission staff at this time. Accordingly, I have canceled tomorrow's meeting of the executive committee. The attacks against Senator Puckett have been reprehensible. Phil is a great man and dedicated public servant. I wish him and his family the very best," said Kilgore.

Governor McAulliffe also weighed in on the resignation, calling the unacceptable:

"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 in Southwest Virginia. This situation is unacceptable, but the bipartisan majority in the Senate and I will continue to work hard to put Virginians first and find compromise on a budget that closes the coverage gap," said Governor McAulliffe in a statement.

Democrats maintain they still have enough votes in the senate to pass the budget with the Medicaid expansion,  thanks to three Republicans who are set to vote "yes" on the matter.

We reached out to Puckett's office for comment, but didn't hear back.

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