Home Virginia Politics Why Aren’t We Trying to Defeat Bill Howell?

Why Aren’t We Trying to Defeat Bill Howell?


(Interesting question. Any answers? – promoted by lowkell)

Perhaps more than any one person, Speaker Bill Howell has been responsible for the dysfunction in the Virginia House of Delegates. As Speaker, Howell has kowtowed to the most extreme members of his caucus and promoted a brand of politics that is hyper-partisan, unwilling to compromise, and callous to the needs of Virginians.

To be sure, Howell is not the cause of all of Virginia’s woes. The Democratic Party of Virginia, due to poor internal structure, has too often been nepotistic and disorganized. Under the stewardship of the DPV, Democrats have seen the gradual erosion of relevance within the House of Delegates. In addition, the increased amount of money in politics has made partisan gamesmanship the norm at every level of government across the country.

Nonetheless, it is Speaker Howell who has used his power and fundraising prowess to bully all members of his caucus into rejecting Medicaid expansion (including conservative compromises similar to those made in Arkansas and other Republican-controlled states). Under his leadership, he has encouraged radical stances on social issues and ensured the failure of any possible expansion of Medicaid. As readers here already know, it is simply unacceptable for a public servant to deny 400,000 people healthcare when expanding coverage would not only cost nothing, but actually save money and create jobs.

The oft-reported reason for Howell’s intransigence on Medicaid expansion has been Howell’s fear of a challenge from the right. As such, I had assumed Howell must represent an overwhelmingly Republican district and that he was assured reelection until his retirement.

That’s why I was shocked when I looked up his district, House District 28, to learn that Howell represents a moderate swing district. Obama won this district in 2008; he tied Romney 49/49 in 2012. Tim Kaine won the district in 2012 and McAuliffe only ran 5 points behind Cuccinelli in an off-year election.

And yet Bill Howell has never received a serious challenge. The last time a Democrat even ran against Howell was in 2007; the Democrat spent $9,000 compared to Howell’s $660,000. That is not a legitimate challenge (though it should be noted that despite being outspent roughly 73:1, the Democratic candidate received nearly 35% of the vote).

Speaker Howell has helped make Virginia a national laughingstock. Howell is an ex-ALEC chair. He has raised widespread ire for his demeaning stances on women’s health issues. His irrational opposition to Medicaid expansion has made national news. It would not be impossible to get a liberal PAC to devote funds to unseating a radical Republican state House Speaker like Bill Howell, especially in a presidential swing state like Virginia.

Winning the district will not be easy. Howell is a skilled fundraiser and enjoys large name recognition. In fact, Democrats may never unseat Howell. But unless he faces a serious Democratic challenger, it is only rational for Howell to take increasingly conservative political positions since his defeat could only come from a Republican primary. Running a good Democratic candidate against Howell, even if that candidate were to lose, would help moderate Howell and thus make the House of Delegates more functional.

So I offer a challenge to all Virginia Democrats: Why aren’t we punishing the architect of Medicaid expansion’s defeat? Why aren’t we trying to defeat Speaker Bill Howell?

  • Dan Sullivan

    is to take back the House of Delegates. It really would not matter if we actually took Howell himself out by winning his district. There is a long line of reactionaries eager to stand in his place.

    I appreciate your sentiment and agree his is a seat that looks winnable. However, I am afraid his singular absence would not advance a thing.  

  • kindler

    Republicans win more often than they deserve to (considering they don’t have much to offer beyond loony tunes conspiracy theories).  Why? Because they are persistent and focused.  Sometimes, I guess, it helps being crazy.

    So why do Dems lose more often they we ought to, considering the strength of our ideas and values?  Because we too often take our eyes off the ball.  

    Maybe because we’re more well balanced and are busy spending time on family and fun and stuff like that.  Regardless, we need to get a little less flaky – and stop missing so many opportunities.  

  • ericd

    So whose job is it to identify, support, and encourage potential candidates in VA’s districts?  Do we have an effective structure for doing this?  Effective people doing it?

  • CADeminVA

    And I can tell you that if he were to be defeated, it would signal a definite and unmistakeable change in the relationship of the RPVA and DPVA to the people of the Commonwealth. I live in the 28th, I see Howell in public frequently. I talk with neighbors who are Republicans and almost always no one will say that they like him or even admit that they vote for him. Yet, finding a challenger is almost impossible, and I have friends who have tried. The truly telling figure is the $660,000/$9,000 funding disparity. “ALEC” Howell is a superb fund-raiser, and he lavishes campaign donations on many local Republican candidates. He enforces dominant majorities in the Stafford County Board of Supervisors and School Board, as well as keeping all the county-wide offices sinecures of privilege and corruption. And yet, many voices in the 28th HoD district decry his opposition to Medicaid expansion, including the Free Lance-Star, Mary Washington Healthcare, and other business groups. It would behoove those parties to get behind a credible candidate (I cannot guess who that would be) and arm that candidate with around $1M in campaign funds, for that’s what it would take to unseat this petty tyrant.

  • hrprogressive

    That there’s been a big problem of not even running a Democratic candidate against a Republican when it comes to General Assembly elections.

    I don’t have a figure readily available, but I just feel like I’ve seen that play out time and time again, where incumbents aren’t even challenged.

    With that type of “Recruiting” going on, and all of the dysfunction I’ve read about the DPVA in the past 5-6 years or so…just what are the so-called “Party Bosses” actually doing with their time and money in this state?

    Can’t gain relevancy if you show apathy towards your irrelevancy!

  • richmonder

    His district has been one of the fastest growing and most prosperous in the state, though recently it’s suffered loss of employment from cutbacks in defense contracting. Still, it has a steady influx of new residents and has been trending more toward a more diverse and progressive voter base. With the right candidate, it could be pulled into the Democratic column within the next one or two elections.