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Speaker Howell is having to play defense against his own team.
Friday, April 26, 2013
Gov. Bob McDonnell may be getting all the glory for this year’s transportation bill, but it was House Speaker Bill Howell who handled much of the grunt work necessary to secure votes for the first significant investment in Virginia roads and bridges in a quarter century.
Now that Howell has saved the commonwealth’s motorists from a plague of potholes, he’s taking on an even more daunting challenge: to save his party from itself.
The Republican leader promised GOP delegates in February that if they voted for the road bill, which bore Howell’s name as chief sponsor, he would do everything possible to prevent their defeat in this year’s elections.
Paranoia? Not at all. Challengers were already howling for blood. Not from within Democratic ranks, but rather from GOP anti-tax zealots convinced that highway construction bargains await just as soon as they defund public schools, freeing up a cheap and youthful labor force to make itself useful. Howell himself is one of four Republican incumbents who supported the road bill now facing primary challenges in June.
True to his word, he has established a political action committee to raise money for that embattled subspecies of the GOP that hasn’t completely lost touch with reality. Predictably, some of the delegates who voted against the transportation bill are whining that the PAC creates “dissension” within the party. Kind of like voting against your own speaker’s bill, maybe?
How did the GOP get to this point? Howell should know. He oversaw the gerrymandering of fire engine red House districts, designed to guarantee his followers safe seats. That turned out to be a costly mistake, and it looks like Howell has gotten stuck with the bill.
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