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Focus | Howell: ‘Get back to our core values’

Story by Chris Graham

It’s like the dog that barks at cars passing by on the street.

“One stopped. We got it. What do we do with it now?” House Speaker Bill Howell quipped, referring to the special prize that Virginia Republicans get for winning the Nov. 3 state elections – in the form of another estimated $3 billion state-budget shortfall to deal with, not to mention what we all hope is the tail end of a recession that’s gone on for nearly two years now.

Howell, in an interview today with, thinks the GOP is ready to manage the state government through the continuing tough times. 

“Gov.-elect McDonnell has made it pretty clear that he doesn’t think the way to address this revenue shortfall is by increasing taxes. I certainly agree with him. I know that most of my colleagues, not all of my colleagues, but most of them, would agree. So that puts the burden on us to say, OK, how are you going to balance the budget if you’re not going to raise taxes?” Howell said.

The short answer to that question – put the focus back on core services.

“I don’t think anybody would doubt that there are things that we need to do to make state government more effective, more efficient, and kind of hunker back to our core responsibilities, what are we supposed to do as a state,” Howell said.

“I think public safety, K-12, higher education, I think helping those that can’t help themselves – there’s a lot of things that we need to focus on that perhaps we’ve lost focus with the past couple of years. It’s an opportunity for us to get back to our core values,” Howell said.

The election of McDonnell, the first Republican elected governor in Virginia in a dozen years, and the pickup in the House by Republicans of six seats in the 100-member chamber that together put the party in the policy hotseat were not so much the result of a “big shift” to Howell as a change in the political winds.

“What happened in 2009 was a combination of a lot of factors, not the least of which was the headwinds that Republicans had been facing for the past several election cycles, the concern about Bush and the Republican Congress, was gone, and in fact it had been replaced by an administration that people were even more concerned about, as it turned out,” Howell said.

“So what had been a pretty swift headwind over the past couple of cycles became a pretty strong tailwind,” Howell said. “I think we got the benefit of that. I think we got the benefit of better candidates, from the top on down. I don’t think there’s any question that Bob McDonnell stuck to the issues, talked about his plans for Virginia, where he wanted to take the Commonwealth, and Creigh Deeds seemed stuck on a thesis that was written 20 years ago.”

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