Henry E. Howell yesterday charged that Andrew P. Miller, his opponent in Virginia's June 14 Democratic primary for governor, is unqualified to hold the state's top office because he lacks "the leadership . . . the toughness, and discipline and training to be governor."
Characterizing Miller as "the easiest opposition I've ever had," Howell said: "He a good, young guy, but he just don't have it."
Howell, a former lietutenant governor who is making his third bid for the office of governor, made his charges - the most serious of the current campaign - during a luncheon with Washington Post reporters and editors in Arlington.
Walter A. Marston, Miller's campaign manager, refused to comment directly on Howell's charges about Miller's competence to be governor. "I don't see what is the point of responding to that type of rehetoric. It's clearly inflamatory and says more about the man that makes the remarks" than the man attacked, Marston said.
"I don't think that Virginians are interested in namecalling and shouting - and that's what it amounts to," he said.
Howell, asked if Miller's 7 1/2 years as Virginia attorney general didn't qualify him to run for governor, refused to back away from his charge that Miller was unqualified.
"I mean there is no question about it," Howell continued. "Let me just take four minutes because we haven't talked about Andrew . . . The story has never been written but it's really scary, honestly scary."
Howell, 56, then proceeded to tick of a list of abuses, mistakes, and false claims that he said Miller, 44, is responsible for in his role as attorney general. At one point Howell likened Miller to the late Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. and at another to Howell's 18-year-old daughter Susan. ("She's great, but she's Huckleberry Finn.")
Repeatedly, during the nearly two-hour interview, Howell attacked Millers's qualifications to become governor. "He's an honorable man as far as I know," he said. "He's just young, impetuous. . . ."
But he said that his criticisms weren't directed at Miller's personality. "It's a matter of principles. It's a matter of discipline. It's how much you believe in commitment and standing by what you say you're going to do."
Although Howell has previously attacked Miller on some of the same points, never has his criticism appeared to be so personal and blunt. His comments are almost certain to be raised by Republicans and used against Miller in the general election if Miller should win the primary.
The remarks may also pose something of a problem for the candidate, who has repeatedly promised throughout the campaign that he will be at Miller's side the day after the primary if Howell should lose, pledging his support to Miller's election.
Specially, Howell accused Miller has claimed in radio adverstising and in "a slick folder," Howell said, that he was contesting every rate increase case filed by Virgiania ulities. Howell said Miller, by his count, missed 48 per cent of the cases heard before the State Corporation Commission, an absence that Howell said Miller has blamed on a lack of funds for his consumer division. Howell said while in the legislature he urged Miller to back a bill that would have given more funds to his office, but Miller refused to support the bill.
(Miller's campaign brochure says, "In the past, while certain politicians could be counted on to show up for the major cases, no one appeared at the SCC to speak on behalf of consumers in cases involving the many small telephone, natural gas and water utilities. Andy Miller changed all of that.")
"An inability to manage and select people." Miller's office failed to forward tax withholding monies for his staff to he Internal Revenue Service and was penalized for the failure." . . . The people paid for it." Howell said. "You'd have thought he (Miller) would have paid . . . the penalty."
Marston acknowledged that the attorney general's office had failed to submit witholding taxes, but said Miller "fired" the office's fiscal officer shortly after Miller learned that the taxes had not been sent to the JRS.
Overaction. Miller, Howell claimed, "overreacted" when criticized for using a state-issued gasoline credit card and driving his state owned Chrysler automobile to political gatherings and on personal trips. "Maybe he didn't even know he was using it," Howell said. "But when they pointed it out, what does he do? He throws his public car out with his card. He overreacted."
An inability to manage money. Citing Miller's record-high primary spending and his continued appeals for additional money, Howell questioned Miller's ability to manage the state's budget for his campaign, sincerely, how can he handle and put discipline into state government."
"Hiding" names of campaign contributors Miller, he said, has refused to list the names of donors of gifts of $100 or less, although such gifts have totaled "over $100,000." "Now, he honest," Howell said. "But why is he hiding it? It's important that we witness."
Martson said the Miller campaign has made a complete list of donors available to any citizen or member of Howell's staff who came into Miller's offices.
Under Virginia law the names of political donors of $100 or less are not required to be reported to the estate Electoral Board, but Howell has made a practise of including the names of all his contributors regardless of their donation.
Howell's statement that Miller poses less of a threat to him than either Republican Gov. Mills E. Godwin did in 1973 or Democrat William C. Battle did in a 1969 primary may surporise many Virginia politicians.Because of his superior fund-raising as a favorite in the current race. Neither Howell nor his aides have been willing to conceed Miller an edge in a race that Howell this week called "evn-steven."