- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Two candidates for speaker of the House of Delegates in Virginia bowed out yesterday, leaving Delegate William J. Howell, Fredericksburg Republican, as the only declared candidate for the position.

Delegate Robert F. McDonnell, Virginia Beach Republican, and interim Speaker Lacey E. Putney, Bedford independent, decided to forgo a race for the post vacated by Delegate S. Vance Wilkins Jr. this month.

"The expectation created for the speaker as a full-time legislator is not one I can meet at this time," Mr. McDonnell said in a letter to his Republican colleagues yesterday.

"[I] never intended to seek the speakership," Mr. Putney told WVIR-TV (Channel 29), an NBC affiliate in a Charlottesville.

Mr. Putney said Republican caucus members never would have elected him anyway, saying it was only natural they would want to install a speaker from their party.

Mr. McDonnell said he was honored to have been considered as a speaker candidate but wanted to focus on becoming attorney general in 2005.

"I want to thank many of you for your pledge of support as I continue to explore a campaign for the office of attorney general," he said. "While I felt it was important to pause briefly to consider the input of many of my colleagues and trusted friends on the speakership, I now look forward to aggressively continuing that effort."

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, last week decided against running for speaker, saying the timing was wrong for him to seek the top legislative leadership spot.

House Republicans are scheduled to meet in Richmond July 20 to select a speaker in waiting.

Under House rules, Mr. Putney, as chairman of the Privileges and Elections Committee, will serve as interim speaker until a permanent leader is selected. A speaker cannot be elected until the full General Assembly reconvenes in January.

Mr. Wilkins, Amherst Republican, resigned this month after acknowledging payment of $100,000 to settle out-of-court sexual-harassment charges against him. He is widely credited with helping to bring the Republican Party to majority status in Virginia. Though he resigned his leadership post, Mr. Wilkins is still a member of the General Assembly.

Mr. Howell may have some competition. Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, Newport News Republican, has expressed interest in the position, but has not formally announced.

Mr. McDonnell endorsed Mr. Howell in the letter to his colleagues, and asked them to do the same.

"Delegate Howell is a principled conservative and an experienced, capable leader," Mr. McDonnell said.

"I am grateful to Vance Wilkins for his tireless party-building efforts and for the unparalleled level of commitment he brought to the office of speaker."

Mr. Hamilton said members should elect the most qualified member. "Vance was on the road a lot, traveling from pillar to post. The standard that Vance set is not a requirement," he said last week.

Members are under no obligation to announce their candidacy before the July 20 meeting. The meeting will be held behind closed doors at the Republican Party of Virginia headquarters.

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