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GOLDMAN: Will Puckett resignation ruin Marsh’s plan?

Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

RICHMOND, Va. – So Virginia Senator Henry Marsh (D – Richmond) is planning to resign his seat.

[The word on the political grapevine has Senator Marsh planning to resign in order to:

  1. Take a job with the McAuliffe Administration
  2. Give his daughter the best chance to win his Senate seat in a special election

Does this sound similar to reasons given for Democratic Senator Phil Puckett’s resignation? The Puckett surprise resignation created a political firestorm in his own party.

It got ugly. He was accused of selling out the Governor and his party for a job with the Tobacco Commission along with a GOP promise of a judgeship for his daughter.

This is why Democratic furor over Puckett’s resignation, which appears to have spurred a federal investigation into its circumstances, may now boomerang on Senator Marsh.

Why?

There is a special law, passed by the General Assembly and challenged by me for years, that gives elected officials like Marsh a huge, unearned boost in their tax-free state pension if they resign and take a job with the prevailing gubernatorial administration.

This is law targeted in the Puckett furor.

Unlike Puckett, Marsh is a major Democratic player and his resignation will not cost the party a seat in Senate since it is not winnable by a Republican.

But given the furor over Puckett, how can Democrats now support Marsh if he does the same thing they called unethical if not illegal, appearing to quit the Senate to take a government job with the special pension kicker along with trying to get his daughter a political position through control of the Richmond Democratic committee?

The state constitution intended to forbid a sitting Senator to so benefit from a government job, but left a loophole.

Section 5 of Article IV of the VA Constitution allows Mr. Marsh to take a job in the McAuliffe Administration not to subject to any vote or favorable action required as a pre-requisite by his colleagues.

The term “elect” in this clause, by the plain meaning available in any dictionary, goes to his taking any office requiring a direct favorable action from the GA for said appointment.

The fact the Governor has the power to appoint Mr. Marsh to the ABC board – as rumored – since the GA is not in session is of no moment, since all ABC or similar type appointments are also made first by the Governor subject to later GA concurrence.

Bottom line, Democrats Charlie Waddell and David Brinkley did the resignation/job thing in the 1990’s and no one suggested they had committed a federal crime or called for any such investigation.

I called on the General Assembly to close the pension loophole, only available due to a loophole in federal pension law. But the Puckett reaction has changed the politics.

Does Henry Marsh really want to leave elected office under such a cloud, seen as milking the very system he has called unfair to minorities?

My advice: Don’t do it Henry, retire at the end of your term if you want to leave office. Then the Constitutional prohibition will not apply either de jure or de facto in the public arena. Why risk your reputation at this stage?

If money is an issue, the Governor can help you out in many legal ways, as can the Democratic Party. So can your protégé, Mayor Jones.

If done correctly, the public will not object.

Once you give up that reputation, you can’t get it back. I have had my differences with Mr. Marsh, so it would be easy for me to stay silent here. But that’s the coward’s way out.

I try to give my honest opinion, and in that regard, I think he risks far too much given the shadow of the Puckett resignation.

I always thought the special sweetheart pension law had no place in Virginia. That hasn’t changed.

Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.