By ANDREW CRIDER
William Howell, the Republican Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates visited the University of Mary Washington to speak to the UMW College Republicans last week. Howell spoke about the latest legislation session of the General Assembly to club members in attendance, as well as representatives from the state chapter of Young Republicans.
Howell discussed actions of Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, higher education, budget plans, campus sexual assault reform efforts and a recent controversial ethics bill that Howell played a central part in passing.
However, Howell primarily took questions about his upcoming reelection and actions as Speaker.
Howell has been a delegate for the 28th district, which covers parts of Fredericksburg and Falmouth, since 1992, and has served as Speaker since 2003 and a member of the House of Delegates since 1987.
Working under both Democratic and Republican governors, Howell has been Speaker of the House during major moments in the history of Virginia’s General Assembly, including the controversial transvaginal ultrasound bill and four straight budget surpluses. Howell has personally advocated for reform in the Virginia retirement system to cut spending, and he supported former Governor Bob McDonnell’s transportation efforts while advocating for environmental conservation.
Howell has also worked as a board member and chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council.
This June, Howell faces a primary challenger in Spotsylvania county supervisor and UMW alumna Susan Stimpson. Prior to hosting Speaker Howell, the College Republicans hosted Stimpson.
“I’m looking forward to this primary,” said Howell at the start of the meeting. “Being in elected office is not a privilege. You got to work for it.”
The Stimpson campaign was also represented at the meeting by Stimpson’s campaign manager, Rollin Reisinger. According to Reisinger, his presence was not a campaign event but simply a way to network and maintain relationships with the College Republicans.
Due to a trend of low turnout for primaries, the College Republicans have become a key group to tap for volunteers and support.
“College Republicans are the backbone of success for the campaign,” said Reisinger. “We look forward to working with the College Republicans in both the primary and general elections.”
Howell is not a stranger to UMW and working with its students. In Richmond, Howell worked with UMW alum Andrew Lamar, who was an advisor to Gov. McDonnell and now works as a lobbyist.
“Andrew worked on my campaign the summer after he graduated,” said Howell. “To me, [he] is typical of the students who come from Mary Washington. It’s a good school, good kids,” Howell said.
Although both campaigns were looking for support from individual students in the primary, the chapter itself does not endorse one candidate over the other until after the primary.
According to William Wadsworth, first vice chair of the College Republicans, the chapter has a policy of neutrality.
“It’s against our policy to endorse during primary campaigns,” said Wadsworth. “We want to stay neutral and to be friends with as many people.”
The meeting was also an achievement for the club according to Chairman Nicole Tardif.
“He has done a lot for Mary Washington, and so it is nice to have someone, especially for the position that’s he is in, [as] the Speaker of the House of Delegates, ” said Tardif.
According to Tardif, hosting the Speaker raises the notability and professionalism of the College Republicans.
“It shows how our club is coming back and [becoming] active on campus,” said Tardif.
For club members, hosting the Speaker was an important part of the democratic process.
According to freshman Madison Doehler, it was important that the Speaker came to address his constituency.
“I believe that it symbolizes that there isn’t that big of a gap between us and our officials,” said Doehler.