Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell apologized to the liberal activist he accused of lacking intelligence Thursday after she confronted him about his role with a conservative national group that ghostwrites legislation.
Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVa, said Howell called her Friday and apologized for being “rude” and said his comments were ”out of character.”
“I thanked him,” Scholl said. “It was nice of him to call and apologize.”
In a statement, Howell said: “After the news conference, I responded to a series of questions from Anna Scholl, Executive Director of ProgressVA, in a manner that was not consistent with my own standards of civility or reflective of the way I believe discussions over public policy disagreements should be conducted.
“I have since called Ms. Scholl and offered my sincere and heartfelt apology for my comments to her.”
In a testy exchange after a news conference, Howell (R-Stafford) blamed the advocacy group ProgressVA for issuing what he called an inaccurate report in January outlining the legislative influence of the American Legislative Exchange Commission, which he used to lead.
Howell grew frustrated after a line of questioning from Scholl, 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.”
In the last 24 hours, a pair of women’s groups — the Women’s Strike Force and the Farm Team — had criticized his “demeaning and condescending’’ remarks. Virginia Democrats 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.
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.
Scholl introduced herself to Howell after a Thursday news conference and asked about the inaccuracies he had raised.
ProgressVA used data from a national report to identify more than 60 Virginia bills that ALEC helped author. Those bills included a piece of legislation calling for companies that hire illegal immigrants to be shut down, and another that would give businesses tax credits to fund private school tuition for needy students. Virtually all of the bills were introduced by Republicans.
The list of Virginia bills also includes one championed by Howell for several years that would have helped protect a Fortune 500 company, Philadelphia-based Crown Cork & Seal, from asbestos lawsuits. It was one of the few bills Howell publicly supported, and it died in a tight vote.
Seven bills that ALEC helped author passed in the General Assembly, including measures on education, taxes and health care, according to the study by ProgressVA. One of the resulting laws laid the groundwork for Virginia’s legal challenge of the federal health-care law passed in 2010.
Scholl said she told Howell that she would like to speak further about the report and ALEC. He suggested the two meet at a future date.