- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 4, 2003

Virginia House Speaker-designate William J. Howell says he will be more of a "big picture" leader than his predecessor as the General Assembly prepares to convene Wednesday for a 46-day session.
"I will probably be more on the sidelines. I don't believe it is my position to advocate [policies] but rather to make sure that process moves smoothly," Mr. Howell, Fredericksburg Republican, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Mr. Howell, 59, was selected House speaker last summer after Speaker S. Vance Wilkins, Amherst Republican, resigned amid revelations he paid $100,000 in a sexual harassment case. Mr. Howell will be formally elected by the 100-member House of Delegates on Wednesday.
"He is a polar opposite of Vance," said House Majority Whip Jeannemarie Devolites, Fairfax Republican. "He is very helpful in creating leadership beneath him and is not trying to do everything himself."
Mr. Howell opposed last year's sales-tax referendums, which would have increased sales taxes in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to fund transportation projects.
"My biggest priority is going to be to accomplish the people's business and close the [$1.2 billion] budget gap with a minimum of rancor and division," he said, adding that he will "pray a lot" to make sure that happens.
The General Assembly will have to approve or reject Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner's plan to shore up the budget, as well as consider bills on such issues as abortion and taxes.
Mr. Howell said he looks forward to working with Mr. Warner during the governor's sophomore session and thinks there will be many areas of common ground. "I have been very pleased to see his budget proposals and his efforts to make government more efficient," he said.
Last month Mr. Warner outlined initiatives aimed at reining in Virginia's spending, which lead him to cut nearly $6 billion from the state budget last year. Included in the proposals are reform plans for the Department of Transportation and the budget process.
Mr. Howell was born in the District, went to school in Fairfax County and has represented the Fredericksburg area in the General Assembly since 1988. "I may have gone to Fairfax High School, but that doesn't mean I will be bringing home the bacon to that area," he said, adding that he is concerned about the state, not one particular region.
Meanwhile, three new members will represent Northern Virginia in the upcoming session.
Sen.-elect Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II was elected in a special election in August to replace Warren Barry, who resigned to take a post in the Warner administration. Sen.-elect Jay O'Brien Jr. was elected in November, and Delegate-elect Timothy D. Hugo was elected last month to fill the vacancy left by Mr. O'Brien's election. All three are Fairfax Republicans.
Mr. Cuccinelli, 33, goes to Richmond as the golden child of the anti-tax crowd, which helped defeat the sales-tax referendum in November. He ran his underdog primary and general campaigns almost exclusively against the sales tax.
In Richmond, Mr. Cuccinelli plans to continue his anti-tax message by introducing legislation that would cap real estate taxes in the area. He also plans to work on solving the transportation problems in Northern Virginia. During the campaign and the referendum drive, he pledged to help bring more tax money back to the region.
He expressed concern that some of his fellow legislators who supported the sales-tax increase might be reluctant to work with him on other proposals.
"I arrive because I took a position that was against one that a lot of them held, while some have been friendly, others have been quite personal. I have to think it will inflame them and will probably impair my ability to garner support," Mr. Cuccinelli said. "I am curious to see how they react."

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