On the same day longtime civil rights leader and Virginia state Sen. Henry L. Marsh III resigned his safely Democratic seat, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced his appointment as a commissioner on the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
That Marsh (D-Richmond) would receive a nice state job to take him toward retirement after decades of service is hardly remarkable in Virginia: Legislators and other power players in Richmond have commonly been tapped for state positions, and Marsh, the city’s first African American mayor, is a widely respected figure whom Timothy M. Kaine, one of Virginia’s Democratic senators and a former Richmond mayor, calls a mentor.
But Marsh’s formal appointment on Thursday — following that of former Democratic delegate Robert H. Brink, who represented parts of Arlington and McLean before resigning last month to take an administration job with the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services — comes at a moment of soaring partisan distrust in Virginia.
On Tuesday, Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) released a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and FBI Director James B. Comey raising concerns that a federal inquiry into another recent resignation from the General Assembly is “politically motivated.” Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D) also resigned last month, giving the GOP control of the evenly-divided Senate and the upper hand in an ugly stalemate over the state budget and Medicaid expansion.
Puckett said he was resigning to clear the way for his daughter to receive a permanent appointment as a judge and to deal with what allies said was a family health matter. But e-mails between officials at Virginia’s Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission and Del. Terry G. Kilgore (R-Scott) outlined an effort, before the resignation, to create a job for Puckett at the commission. Democrats accused their Republican colleagues of buying Puckett’s resignation, in essence; in the firestorm, the Democrat quickly withdrew his name from consideration for the job.
Griffith said such appointments are a routine part of state and federal politics, noting that President Obama and former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III did similar things and faced no federal investigation.
Had Puckett taken the position, “he would have been, by all accounts, well-qualified for the job given his experience with the Senate, the Tobacco Commission, and in banking,” Griffith wrote.
E-mails show that Timothy S. Pfohl, interim executive director of the tobacco commission, was more concerned about appearances. He wanted more separation between the announcement of Puckett’s resignation and his planned new job in order “to give this the most defensible appearance of due process.”