- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 21, 2002

RICHMOND House Republicans unanimously selected William J. Howell, a low-key delegate from Stafford, as their nominee for speaker of the House yesterday, assuring his election to the legislature's most powerful spot in January.
"If someone told me six weeks ago that I'd be standing here before you all having just received the nomination to be speaker in January, when the House of Delegates comes back together, I would have thought they were probably hallucinating," Mr. Howell told reporters after the vote by the House Republican Caucus.
Mr. Howell's nomination puts the 65-member caucus behind a new leader to succeed S. Vance Wilkins Jr., who stepped down as speaker June 13. Mr. Wilkins announced last week that he would resign his House seat next month.
Mr. Howell said his election reunites a party torn apart by reports that Mr. Wilkins had paid a 26-year-old woman $100,000 to hush her assertions that Mr. Wilkins groped her last summer. Mr. Wilkins became the first Virginia speaker to resign under pressure involving a scandal.
The party has been through a tragic and sad time, Mr. Howell said. "But we've come around that bend in the road, and now we're ready to move on down the highway," he said.
Mr. Howell quickly emerged as the only Republican delegate trying for the post. His low profile and his untarnished personal life quickly made him the favorite after Mr. Wilkins resigned. Two other Republicans who considered seeking the spot, H. Morgan Griffith of Salem and Robert F. McDonnell of Virginia Beach, bowed out and ceded the nomination to Mr. Howell.
Mr. Howell said he planned no major shake-ups of House committee chairmanships and promised a less autocratic style than that of Mr. Wilkins, who closely controlled legislation through committee appointments. Mr. Howell said he would delegate more authority to other House Republican leaders.
He also said he has established his own political action committee under the name Dominion Leadership Trust. Mr. Wilkins spent much of his 25 years in the House recruiting and funding the campaigns of Republican House candidates.
House Republicans have called on Mr. Wilkins to release about $170,000 remaining in his PAC, the Dominion Leadership Fund.
Mr. Wilkins was traveling outside the country yesterday and was unavailable for comment. His former top aide, Claudia D. Tucker, denied published reports that Mr. Wilkins intended to give the PAC money to her and other members of his staff.


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