- The Washington Times - Monday, July 1, 2002

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. When U.S. Rep. Herb Bateman announced his retirement from Congress in 2000 after 18 years, Delegate William J. Howell was considered by many the natural candidate to succeed the popular Virginia Republican.
But for Mr. Howell the feeling just was not there.
"The truth be known, I never really considered it. I never felt led to that position and the thought of going to Washington, D.C., made me stay awake at night," Mr. Howell said.
Two years later though, Mr. Howell is feeling "led" to the top spot of speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates.
So far Mr. Howell, 59, is the only announced candidate for the position unexpectedly vacated by Delegate S. Vance Wilkins, Amherst Republican, who resigned after becoming embroiled in a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Many expect Mr. Howell to cruise to the post of speaker-in-waiting when the Republican caucus meets in Richmond on July 20.
A conservative who represents the city of Fredericksburg and parts of Stafford County, Mr. Howell is a 14-year-veteran of the House of Delegates. He is a native of the District of Columbia and serves as chairman of the Courts of Justice Committee.
A month ago, he never would have imagined being speaker, but things change and feelings grow.
"Even after Vance got himself into trouble, I never thought about it," Mr. Howell said. "But then some people that I respect started calling me, and I really did feel led. Its quite a contrast from two years ago."
Republican Delegates Robert F. McDonnell and Phillip Hamilton both announced they would take a pass at the position Mr. Wilkins, Amherst Republican, left earlier this month. The two men endorsed Mr. Howell.
"His ambitions are more in check than most politicians," said Stephen Farnsworth, an associate professor of political science at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, who noted this trait will undoubtedly help Mr. Howell in the role of speaker.
"He felt he preferred to stay in Richmond and there are not a lot of politicians that would have walked away from the chance to be a congressman," Mr. Farnsworth said. "Most importantly though, there is not a whiff of scandal about him."
It is this last part that has attracted a lot of support from his colleagues at a time went the Republican Party needs healing.
Mr. Wilkins, whom many credit with bringing the Republicans to majority party status in Virginia politics, was forced to step aside after he acknowledged paying $100,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him by a 26-year-old woman.
These revelations came to light two months after the executive director of the Virginia Republican Party, Edward Matricardi III, was forced out in the midst of an eavesdropping scandal.
Mr. Matricardi had listened in on private conference calls among high-ranking Democrats, including Gov. Mark R. Warner, as they discussed legislative redistricting plans.
"Both of these situations involved individuals, not the Republican Party as a whole," said Delegate Jeannemarie Devolites, Fairfax Republican. "Bill is a consensus builder, but also a quiet and wise man and that is exactly what we need right now."
Mrs. Devolites, the house majority whip, has endorsed Mr. Howell and expects him to run unopposed.
Under House rules, Delegate Lacey E. Putney, Bedford independent, is interim speaker until a new speaker is selected. Mr. Putney has also endorsed Mr. Howell.
Republicans will meet in Richmond on July 20 to select a speaker-in-waiting candidate because a new speaker cannot be formally elected until the General Assembly reconvenes in January.
Those who know him best say he will bring a "calming presence" to the position.
"He has always had a calming presence in the region and he likes to do his business face to face," said Kathy J. Beard, director of the Office of Economic Development and Tourism for Fredericksburg, who sits on several community boards with Mr. Howell.
"Usually politicians make a lot of enemies, but while he has a lot of people who may disagree with him on substance, they find him fair-minded and congenial," Mr. Farnsworth said.


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