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Rift between McDonnell and House GOP doesn't exist, Speaker says

Anita Kumar

Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell said in an interview that a handful of Republican delegates who have publicly complained about testy relations with Gov. Bob McDonnell's staff do not represent his entire caucus. (Read today's story on delegates' comments.)

"That doesn't represent the vast majority of the people in the caucus,'' said Howell (R-Stafford).

He said at least 90 percent of the 61-member caucus like and respect McDonnell and his staff, despite some differences over the governor's ambitious plan to privatize the state's 76-year-old liquor system. McDonnell is a former longtime delegate.

Howell said some members who served with Democratic governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine are having trouble getting accustomed to working with a Republican governor after eight years.

"They can't reverse gears, " he said.

Howell made his comments after The Washington Post reported that McDonnell political adviser Phil Cox described leaders in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates "spineless." Cox also warned that the governor might not support Republicans in next year's elections if they vote against the proposal.

Howell, who has served in the House since 1988 and as speaker since 2003, said he is used to harsh comments and that Cox said it out of frustration. He said Cox speaks that way sometimes because he runs campaigns.

"I don't think he thinks I'm spineless,'' Howell said. "And if he does, I don't care."

Howell said he and Del. Kirk Cox (R), who serves as the majority whip, spoke to McDonnell on the phone after Del. Tim Hugo (R), the caucus chairman, relayed Cox's comments. Howell joked to the governor that Cox must have been referring to House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R), who is running for Congress against Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher.

Howell said he has a great deal of respect and affection for McDonnell, and that if he succeeds it will help him and his members. "The better he does, the better we do,'' he said.

McDonnell's liquor proposal would privatize the wholesale and retail distribution of distilled spirits to provide a one-time windfall of at least $458 million for transportation. Legislators and Republican staffers said they expect McDonnell to announce soon that he will call off plans to seek a special session in November to consider the proposal and instead ask the General Assembly to consider it during the annual session that opens in January.

Most delegates, Howell said, support the liquor proposal in concept even if they have questions about details. He said he has formed a working group of members to hash out concerns with the governor's office before the legislation goes to the General Assembly. "Nobody agrees 100 percent of the time,'' he said. "We're not going to agree on everything."

"They need a little more time to look at what the issues are with ABC," Howell said. The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control oversees Virginia's state-run liquor stores. "Most people in the House and the Senate believe in free market. They believe if you designed a system you wouldn't design it this way. They want to see more money for transportation. But I'm making a big change. It's going to take the legislators, frankly, a little more time to take a look at this."

McDonnell met with House Republicans for about 90 minutes Monday at the caucus's annual retreat in Richmond. He spoke about a variety of proposals, including the liquor plan.

"I have a great relationship with the House Republican caucus,'' McDonnell told reporters late Wednesday. "The Speaker, Kirk Cox and other leaders are very good friends, as well as good legislative allies. There are times when we don't agree on everything. We have different branches of government. We cooperated extremely well this first session. We're working together on any number of issues for the next session."

By Anita Kumar  | October 14, 2010; 10:11 AM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar, Liquor privatization, Robert F. McDonnell, Transportation, William Howell  
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Next: National Democrats not giving up on Reps. Perriello, Nye, Kratovil


RINOs are like WINO's: They'll do anything to stay drunk, with or without power.

Posted by: RogerRamjet2 | October 14, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

"I don't think he thinks I'm spineless,'' Howell said. "And if he does, I don't care."

Oh, yeah, relations are just peachy.

Posted by: jeffersonian1 | October 14, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

I've heard some Republicans are taking a stand because of concerns about public health and safety, and kudos to them. All the damage will come at added costs to taxpayers and impact quality of life and the economy.

The constitution empowers states to control alcohol for a reason. Liquor is a unique product, most intoxicating per ounce. The Dept. of Justice and Surgeon General, et al. urge communities to limit density of outlets, etc. as ways to limit binge drinking and other alcohol abuse. But this privatization proposal makes booze easier to come by than bread.

Embrace the ABC store system as the smart, state-revenue-producing, self-supporting agency that it is. We've got 20 percent less liquor consumption in Va. and rank 45th for underage drinking costs of harm per youth. Those are good statistics, not sales gaps for the alcohol industry to fill.

Posted by: anonymousid | October 14, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

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