Va. House speaker announces retirement

WASHINGTON — Virginia’s second longest-serving Speaker of the House will not seek re-election in November, and is instead retiring.

Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, announced Monday afternoon that he is not seeking re-election to the Virginia House of Delegates.

“Serving in this esteemed body which is the Virginia House of Delegates for the last 30 years has been a distinct privilege. Likewise, serving as the Speaker of the House for 15 years now truly has been the greatest professional honor of my life,” he said in the statement. “While I obviously will miss all of you and while I will always look back with only fondness at every day I served here, I have decided that I will not be seeking re-election to the House.”

Howell’s decision means that House Majority Leader Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights, could become the next speaker in 2018.

Howell, 73, has served in the Virginia General Assembly for 29 years and has been speaker for the last 15 years. Howell assumed the role of speaker on the heels of the resignation of Speaker Vance Wilkins Jr., who was mired in a sexual harassment scandal.

Under Howell’s low-key style leadership, Republicans expanded their majority in the House. The current makeup of the House is 66 Republican and 34 Democrats. That majority has allowed Howell to reject Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s repeated attempts to expand Medicaid in Virginia as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Last year, Howell, along with other Republicans, went before the Virginia Supreme Court to overturn the governor’s blanket order restoring voting and other civil rights, such as owning a gun, to about 260,000 felons who had completed their sentences.

Howell is known for sound fiscal management and conservative policies. But in 2013, he sponsored the first transportation funding overhaul in 27 years.

Virginia’s longest serving speaker was Edgar Blackburn Moore, who held the position from 1950 through 1967. Howell comes second, starting his term in 2003.

“Now and always, I am optimistic that this House – the oldest continuous representative law-making body in the New World – will continue to inspire and fulfill the enormous potential of Virginia’s bright future,” Howell said in the statement.

WTOP’s Sarah Beth Hensley contributed to this report from Washington.


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