Standing before a deserted market Square in Alexandria and frequently invoking the name of President Carter, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Heney E. Howell unveiled yesterday a 12-plank "populist" platform that borrows heavily from his three previous statewide races and avoids any suggestion of new state taxes.
"I can tell you that I sense a new day stirring in Virginia," the Democratic candidate and former lieutenant governor told a half-dozen reporters from behind a lectern perched atop a three-foot-high platform in the square.
Fewer than 10 Howell supporters were on hand for his announcement, which came exactly three months before his party primary June 14 with former state Attorney General Andrew P. Moller. Despite the location of the announcement, Frank Bolling, Howell's press secretary, said the event eas never planned as a rally and hadn't been announced to the general public.
The political platform that Howell announced there and later in Richmond and Roanoke is built around the familiar themes that Howell has sounded before, such as tighter controls on the state's utilities and elimination of tax "loopholes" for "the supper rich."
But it also was clear yesterday that Howell is hoping that his long friendship with Jimmy Carter will help propel him into the office he narrowly lost to Republican Mills E. Godwin four years ago. "We lost to Mills Godwin by 7/10 of 1 per cent and we like to think that the fact that we've got a hard-working populist in the White House will help communicate the message of what we need in the State-house," he said.
Although Carter campaigned for Howell in 1973, Howell said he wasn't going to ask for his help this year in the primary. "And if I asked, he shouldn't do it," he said. "The President, a Democratic President, should not himself participate in the primary."
Howell stressed the word "himself" and went on to say, in response to questions, that he believed some of the President's political associates "would come" to his support "if it would be helpful and would not hurt the unity of the Democratic Party in any way." #THowever, in response to another question, he said that it would not be "necessary" for some of Carter's aides to actively campaign for him. "As you know, when my good friend Hamilton Jordan (Carter's closest aide pierces his new tuxedo with an 'I-believe-in-Henry-Howell' button, that's total commitment.
"We know that he is dreaming abnout and we know Jimmy Carter would love to have Henry Howell working with him in the Statehouse," Howell continued. "But we do not intend to take them away from these very challenging times of the day . . ."
The Howell platform is prepared with the regional issues designed to help Howell's campaign in diverse sections of the state. For Northern Virginia, he pledged financial support for construction of the Metrorail subway system and for southwest Virginia, he promised to veto any coal tax proposal.
A grey-haired lawyer with a nassal voice, Howell served his platform with his own brand of populist humor, saying for instances, that Vepco, the acronym for Virginia Electric and Power Co., "stands for every expensive power company.
The state's current 4 per cent sales tax ought to be removed from non prescription drugs, he said, because it raises only $8 million annually. "And there is so little money involved because it's all coming from our old people, older people who need to take aspirin, Laxatives, BEn-Gay and arthritis medicine," he said.
His stance on that issue represents a departure from 1973 when he called for repeal of the sales tas on all food and drug sales.
Howell's platform also contains some innovations, such as calling for establishment of regional "assistant governorships" in various regions of the state and citizen advisory commitees for the governor in each of the state's 10 congressional districts.
In addition to Metro aid, Howell also called for granting the state's localities more "home rule," a step long advocated by many Northern Virginia legislators, but resisted repeatedly by most members of the state legislature.