Home > Domestic/Social Policy, Election 2009: HOD, General Assembly, History, Party politics > The Untold Story–House GOP Bucks Howell

The Untold Story–House GOP Bucks Howell

The story line that is dominating the passage of a compromise smoking ban bill in the House is that Speaker Howell got the bill passed. However, what hasn’t been told is just what the shakedown was on his support, and it doesn’t look good for the Speaker. 

Thirty two Republicans (out of the fifty three strong caucus, excluding Abbitt and Putney) sided against the Speaker on this one, just over 60% of the Caucus. Additionally, those who should be closest to the speaker, Committee Chairs, only sided with the Speaker by an 8 to 6 margin. Add in the leadership (Leader Griffith, Whip Cox, and Caucus Chair Nixon) and that number goes to 9 to 8.

Perhaps even more telling is the margins according to when the Delegates were elected. Of those Delegates elected before the Speaker was elected in 2003, the margin is 19 against to 17 yes, meaning that a little over half of those elected prior to Howell becoming speaker voted against him. This in of itself shows the waning power of the Speaker. However, when you look at those elected after 2003, the numbers are even more eye opening. 11 voted against the speaker while just 5 voted with him. Nearly 70% of those elected while Howell was Speaker bucked him. Things are slightly better when you look at those candidates that Howell supported financially since 2003. Six voted against him, four with him. However, that’s still 60% of those he supported who bucked him on this vote. 

Howell managed to get his way this time, just as he did in 2004 with Warner’s tax package. Inside sources have indicated that Howell had several members of finance take a walk out of the Committee, allowing for its passage. This allowed the bill to get through but also allowed Howell to vote no, sparing him some criticism. However, this time it wasn’t clear that Kaine had the votes. Howell orchestrated this with many of the NOVA, Hampton Roads and Richmond members who will be counting on his financial support to give them an issue to campaign on (as well as to benefit his own re-election prospects). He did this, however, on the back of the party being the party of liberty, and without realizing that Kaine will also be dumping money on the candidates who will challenge the GOPers regardless while at the same time giving Democrats an issue. It will be the Democrats who can say they are the party that saved Virginia’s non-smokers, not Howell.

I’ll put up a spreadsheet later, but it has become fairly obvious that Howell is losing the support of the conservative and rural wing of his party. The big question is: will the 11 Young Turks who bucked Howell despite his support in their races be able to find 15 or so votes if they think they can knock him off as Speaker? The GOP has to hold the majority first, but it’s clear that even many old hands are tired of the Speaker’s wishy washy leadership and tendency to back down, even when, as we saw this time, the votes are there to stand on the side of property rights and personal liberty. 

As an long time observer of the General Assembly shared with me, one has to wonder if Chichester is still sitting in some dark corner of the Commonwealth, pulling the strings to make his boy Howell dance.

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  1. February 19, 2009 at 2:04 pm

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