The “moderate” lawmaker, who is frequently part of the “Gang of Three” GOP senators who flip to the Democrats on key issues like Medicaid expansion, will not be missed by conservatives.[read_more]
Watkins will be stepping down after a stunning 34 years in the General Assembly. Interestingly, Watkins cites the #BLACKorBUST amendment in June that thwarted the attempt to give Governor McAuliffe an avenue to expand Medicaid under Obamacare as one of the reasons for his departure:
(Emphasis added). Let’s pause on that for a moment. He says he “probably should not have done that” (i.e., vote to keep the Governor from circumventing the legislature and his Republican colleagues). Folks, that attitude—the one that says that backroom deals and and legislative tricks designed to shuck accountability are legitimate behaviors—is at the heart of the problem in Richmond. If Sen. Watkins feels bad for striking a blow for good government, then we feel bad for not having helped reacquaint himself with “life beyond the legislature” any sooner than now.
Puckett’s resignation opened the door for Republicans to pass an amendment to the state budget that effectively cut off an avenue for Gov. Terry McAuliffe to draw down federal health care dollars to expand Medicaid to 400,000 uninsured Virginia residents.
Watkins and two other centrist Republicans had pushed a privatized version of expansion called Marketplace Virginia, but ended up voting with his party over concerns that the House would fail to pass a spending plan if it allowed for expansion.
“I probably should not have done that,” Watkins said.
“This last session was probably one of the most difficult sessions that I’ve ever been part of, and it convinced me there was life beyond the legislature,” he said.
The race in Watkins’ district is going to be the bellwether for the Virginia senate, as the balance of power may tip in either direction based on the outcome in this swing district. No doubt Watkins has already picked a favored successor, but we have yet to hear any names floated for the job.
Watkins’ colleagues in the “Gang of 3” are Walter Stosch (R-Henrico) and Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta). Hanger has two credible challengers this year, Marshall Pattie and Dan Moxley. We’ve also heard from members of the General Assembly that Hanger’s district may become a test case for litigating the incumbent protection act (Virginia Code 24.2-509), the law that allows incumbents to choose a state-run primary that allows Democrats to participate in Republican nominating contests. That should make for some interesting political theater.
Of course the marquee race this year will be between House Speaker Bill Howell (R-Stafford) and former Stafford Board of Supervisors Chairman Susan Stimpson. I can report (as I have informed the interested parties) that there will be no challenge to the incumbent protection act in Stafford this year, despite rumors to the contrary. Instead, it looks like both candidates are comfortable in making their case to voters in a state-run open primary. That means it’s going to get pretty expensive, pretty quick.
Finally, we are aware of another impending primary challenge. It seems former Dave Brat advisor and Eric Cantor political director Amanda Chase has decided to seek the nomination for the seat held by incumbent Republican Senator Steve Martin. Virtucon has the goods here on what will undoubtedly be a tough contest for both candidates.