The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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June 28, 2014

Virginia panel's emails describe turmoil over hiring senator

— RICHMOND, Virginia — Virginia Sen. Phillip Puckett was about to get a good gig with the state tobacco commission, one created just for him, with a job description he was invited to write himself. Maybe even a state car.

The only problem was timing. If the commission hired Puckett on the same day that the Democrat from rural Russell County stepped down from the Senate, it might look fishy. His resignation would give the Republicans control of the chamber, giving them the advantage in a budget standoff over Gov. Terry McAuliffe's top priority: Medicaid expansion.

The head of the commission warned that they should " 'decouple' those announcements for the sake of the appearance of the Commission manipulating the Senate balance of power and starting WW3 w/ the Governor's administration."

That message is part of a 74-page email trail made public this week that provides new details of a bitter episode in Virginia political history and discloses for the first time that a Republican lawmaker took steps to create a job specifically for Puckett before the Democrat resigned from the Senate. The Washington Post obtained the emails under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The emails begin May 29 with a breezy note between two colleagues about a potential job for Puckett. They end 11 days later with an abrupt order to call off the appointment — and an all-staff alert about how to handle a growing news-media frenzy.

The documents shed light on what went on behind the scenes — from rolling out the red carpet for Puckett to escalating political concerns — in the days immediately before and after Puckett's resignation.

On that first day came an email from Timothy S. Pfohl, interim executive director of the tobacco commission. Established 15 years ago to dole out $1 billion from a legal settlement with the nation's largest tobacco companies, the body, known formally as the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission (and informally as TICR), funds projects intended to boost jobs in the state's most economically depressed regions. That gives the people who serve on the commission board — including a number of state lawmakers — the chance to distribute funds to their regions.

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