Former Lt. Gov. Henry E. Howell, who one week ago suffered a crushing defeat as the Democratic nominee for governor of Virginia, said today in a press conference he never again expects to be a candidate for statewide office.
Howell ran for governor three times, once as an independent and twice as a Democrat, and became lieutenant governor as an independent in a 1971 special election.
Running, as a populist foe of the state's conservative politcal establishment and its big utilities, banks and insurance companies, Howell has had a tumultuous political career that reached a high point in 1973 when he lost the governorship by about 15,000 votes out of 1 million cast.
In last week's election, Republican Lt. Gov. John N. Dalton beat Howell by 160,000 votes. The Democrat carried only two of 10 congressional districts and received even fewer votes than the losing Republican candidate for lieutenant governor,a previously little known state senator from Virginia Beach, A. Joe Canada.
In today's press conference, Howell blamed his defeat on superior Republican organization in Virginia - he said the GOP displayed an "awesome political arsenal" - and on what he called the "big falsehood" used by the Dalton campaign in direct mail "to scare the voters."
Howell said he was especially upset by a Dalton campaign letter suggesting that collective bargaining for public employees could lead to strikes that could disrupt schools and leave home owners without fire protection.
Howell has close politcal ties to labor unions and advocated a policy that would allow cities and counties to permit collective bargaining by public employees. Public employee bargaining now is prohibited in Virginia.
Howell called the Dalton mail campaign "the lowest road that had ever been traveled" in Virginia politics. Because of it, he said, he will never "congratulate or compliment" Dalton on his victory. He released a letter to Dalton wishing him and his family "God's blessings and good health, wishes that I have for every human being."
Howell again called on Dalton to file copies of his campaign material with the clerk of the Virginia Senate and again charged that Richard Viguerie, who has directed mail campaigns for conservative and candidates and causes, and Republican political consultant Norman Bishop put together Dalton's mail campaign.
Dalton campaign manager William A. Royall said in an interview that neither Bishop nor Viguerie played any role in the Dalton organization. Royall also said that all of Dalton's campaign literature was available for inspection by reporters but would not be filed with any state agency. "What would be the need of that?" he asked. "It has all been very open and public."
Howell repeated his call for a campaign practices commission that could censor candidates' misstatements and said in answer to questions that it is possible some of his own campaign material would have been prohibited by such a commission.
Of his own future, Howell said he will concentrate on working for a well-funded, fully-staffed Democratic Party organization that will be "competitive" with the Virginia Republican Party.
He said the Democratic Party in the state should work to cultivate a middle-income to lower-income constituency. He said he spoke to this constituency in his campaign and said, "the Democrats have got to know that this is their only constituency."
He was critical of the Democratic Party's past and called for a break with it. "Our Democratic Party has traditionally been the same as the Republican Party. They've looked out for the same interests. They respond to the lobbyists . . ."
Howell said Democrats are to blame for everything that is wrong with the state's tax and utility structure because they have overwhelming majorities of about 80 per cent in both houses of the General Assembly.
He called on Democratic legislators to dedicate themselves to populist measures in the next legislative session. Among those he named were such favorite Howell campaign planks as return to the 10-cent toll call, prohibition of the automatic pass-through of fuel costs by electric utilities and exemption of nonprescription drugs from the sales tax.
On party politcs, Howell said he remains philosophically in favor of primaries to nominate candidates but personally leans toward a convention to choose next year's U.S. Senate candidate. He said the party needs to save its resources for the general election.