In a testy exchange after a tense news conference, Howell blamed the advocacy group ProgressVA for issuing what he called an inaccurate report in January outlining ALEC’s legislative influence in Virginia. He also criticized The Washington Post for writing about the review. ALEC has ghostwritten legislation across the nation, including in Virginia.
Howell grew frustrated after a line of questioning from Anna Scholl, the executive director of ProgressVA, and after she asked him for clarification, Howell replied: “I guess I’m not speaking in little enough words for you to understand.’’
Scholl retorted: “I’m a smart girl, actually. I went to the University of Virginia. I benefited from public education in Virginia. I think words with multiple syllables will be just fine for me.”
Virginia Democrats immediately released a video of the exchange, taped by a staffer, and called on Howell to apologize for his “belligerent and mean-spirited attack.” Howell’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
“After four months of outrageous Republican attacks on women’s rights, I guess I should not be surprised by Speaker Howell’s statement,” said Susan Platt, co-founder of the Farm Team, which supports female candidates for office in Virginia. “It is distressing, to say the least, that Howell has so wholeheartedly embraced this national trend of rhetoric against women. It is becoming pervasive.”
During the news conference on Thursday, Howell also chastised reporters for their coverage of the two-year, $85 billion state budget as well as former governor Timothy M. Kaine (D) for making unilateral decisions regarding a Metrorail project to Dulles International Airport. (Kaine negotiated an agreement on the project at the urging of several Republicans, including then-Sens. John Warner and George Allen and Rep. Frank Wolf.)
Howell, ALEC’s national chairman in 2009, appeared at a Capitol Square news conference with business leaders to tout a survey by ALEC that showed Virginia has been named one of the best states in which to do business.
ALEC touts itself as a pro-business, free-market organization, and its members include legislators and private companies. Corporate members pay fees, which give them a say on legislative issues. In recent weeks, several corporations have dropped their support of ALEC following scrutiny of “Stand Your Ground” laws after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. The group had lobbied for similar laws in other states.
Howell said the group had nothing to do with the Florida case and the legislation there came before ALEC’s involvement. He predicted that ALEC, which had 65 new corporate members last year, will easily survive the latest defections.