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House of Cards-Style Corruption in Virginia

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In the Netflix show "House of Cards," Kevin Spacey plays Frank Underwood -- a shrewd and cunning politician who methodically manipulates his way into higher levels of power like a chess game, often through blackmail, bribery, and other forms of skullduggery. Phil Puckett, a Virginia state senator, is truly embodying the worst of Frank Underwood, throwing his constituents under the bus to secure benefits for himself and his family.

State Senator Phil Puckett, a Democrat, announced his resignation today after 16 years in the senate. Puckett is from Southwest Virginia, which is largely poor and rural. His resignation will trigger a special election which Republicans are likely to win, giving the GOP a majority in the Senate. If a Republican replaces Puckett, his daughter gets a judgeship and he gets a position as Deputy Director of the state tobacco commission.

Should the Republicans win the Senate, they're likely to take Medicaid expansion out of the state budget, making access to health care impossible for 400,000 Virginians -- particularly poor and rural Virginians in Russell County, where Puckett used to serve. Unless McAuliffe is willing to veto the Republican budget and trigger a state government shutdown on July 1, nearly half a million Virginians won't get access to the health care they need.

Puckett's daughter, Martha P. Ketron, has had her judicial appointment up in the air since the start of this year's legislative session. Last year's elections, in which former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe won the governor's race, also saw the 40-seat State Senate switch hands from GOP control to Democratic control. State Senator Ralph Northam won the Lieutenant Governor's race and a Democrat narrowly won his old Senate seat in a special election this January. Republicans have been blocking Ketron's confirmation for a judgeship in Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, on the grounds of an informal policy that doesn't allow for relatives of legislators to serve as judges. Ketron was named as an interim judge in July of 2013 and requires confirmation from the legislature to serve a 6-year term. Puckett's resignation from the senate means the anti-nepotism policy will no longer apply.

The sweetheart deal for Puckett and his family will likely come at a lethal cost to Virginians who depend on Medicaid expansion. A Harvard study recently found that as many as 17,000 Americans may die due to lack of Medicaid expansion in states where Republican governors have opted out of expanding the program under Obamacare.

Out of the 8 million Americans who lost the ability to get health insurance under expanded Medicaid programs, 432,000 diabetics won't be able to have access to medication, 659,000 women won't have access to mammograms, and 3.1 million women in need of regular pap smears won't have health insurance to make those exams and treatments available. Former Florida governor Charlie Crist claims 6 Floridians die each day due to current governor Rick Scott's decision to not expand Medicaid, which Politifact rated "half-true," only on the grounds that the number is actually closer to 3 a day.

Blocking Medicaid expansion isn't only a loss for people who need Medicaid -- it's also political suicide. According to Public Policy Polling results collected this past April, five Republican governors who chose not to expand Medicaid are trailing in their bids for re-election. Maine governor Paul LePage and Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett are both losing popularity among their blue-state constituents. Red state constituents are losing confidence for Kansas governor Sam Brownback and Georgia governor Nathan Deal. And in Florida, Rick Scott's opposition to Medicaid expansion is widely opposed by a 58 to 33 margin.

At the federal level, Mitch McConnell may lose his re-election bid in Kentucky, as his constituents are supportive of Kynect -- Governor Steve Beshear's expansion of health insurance for Kentuckians. McConnell has been put in such a precarious position over Obamacare's popularity among Kentuckians that he's taken the position of wanting to repeal Obamacare but keep Kynect, which a Washington Post fact-checker called "not credible." 413,000 Kentuckians have signed up for Kynect, the state-based exchange funded by Obamacare, and most qualified for the federal subsidy that lowers premium costs.

The fact that Senator Puckett is letting the GOP buy him out with a cushy job and a prestigious position for his daughter so they can successfully block Medicaid expansion isn't just nakedly corrupt, it's also lethal. Puckett deserves to be investigated and the Democratic leadership needs to hold fast to either having a budget that expands access to healthcare, or having no budget at all.

Senator Puckett's office did not return calls for interview requests.

(This article originally appeared on Reader Supported News.)