Will House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell be the next Virginia Republican to follow Eric Cantor out the door reserved for senior party members ousted by the Tea Party? Could be. Cantor couldn’t stop an unknown Tea Party challenger from ejecting him from congress, notwithstanding that Cantor was the House Majority Leader at the time. Replacing him in Congress next year will be Dave Brat, a man so popular with local Republican leaders that they hand-picked Peter Farrell to keep Brat from becoming a member of the House of Delegates in 2011. Cantor should have seen this coming, because it had already happened to Joe May, in 2013, when Dave LaRock replaced him. Cantor outspent Brat by 40-to-1. May only outspent LaRock by a little under 6-to-1. Both were crushed by double-digit losses in their primaries to Tea Party challengers who went on to win their general elections.
Why is any of this a reason for Bill Howell to worry? Because May’s loss to LaRock was clearly the result of May’s support for Howell’s (and Bob McDonnell’s, but forget him, because everyone else already has) transportation bill. That bill, which is now the law that will finally do something at least partly sensible for the economy-killing traffic problems here in NoVa, did the politically unthinkable: it raised taxes. In Virginia. With the approval of Republicans. As a result, the Tea Party targeted Joe May for political termination, and succeeded. Before they did so, however, Howell tried to stop them. He formed a PAC, tellingly named, “Commonwealth Transportation PAC,” which doled out a few large donations to at-risk incumbents who had supported Howell’s bill. The biggest taker was Joe May, who got $25,000 from Howell (curiously, the bulk of that was donated a few days after May’s primary loss; suggestions taken as to why). Clearly, Howell knew that supporting his bill had put some of his friends’ seats in jeopardy. (Others included Tag Greason, and Tom Rust, the latter being further gifted with May’s old seat as chair of the house Transportation Committee.)
So Howell got his bill, but lost his senior supporter to a Tea Party challenger who went on to win the general election. This means Dave LaRock is there at every session, reminding all Republicans that they too are vulnerable to the Tea Party’s wrath. A fluke? Maybe Howell thought so at first. But that was before the same thing happened to Eric Cantor, the very next year. Hard to see that as anything but what it is: proof that sitting Republicans, no matter how senior, cannot ignore the Tea Party. For Bill Howell, it may be too late to stop ignoring them, as he already committed the sin of raising taxes. Worse for him, those new taxes haven’t appeared yet. They are scheduled to come out of your wallet in two months.
Enter, at this point, Bob Marshall. Never a favorite of his own party, he is beloved by no-tax advocates in the state. And Marshall knows it. He has no sins to atone for with the Tea Party, unlike Bill Howell. Now, Marshall seems to be calling for Howell’s atonement, more likely, his punishment. In his latest newsletter, Marshall accuses Howell (and all other Republicans except Del. Mark Berg) of breaking a promise to “kill” the gas-tax increase that will pay for part of Howell’s transportation bill. As a result, says Marshall, gas prices are about to go up:
We now pay a 3.5% gas tax. In January that will increase to 5.1% . Based on gas prices of $3.17 per gallon, the gas tax will be 16.17 cents per gallon, just under the 17.5 cents prior to enactment of HB 2313. However, HB 2313 also increased the sales and several other taxes in 2013 to generate more revenue. Bottom line: we will be paying more come January!
Who is responsible for this tax increase, exactly? Bob Marshall knows:
Speaker Howell’s HB 2313 tax increase, which passed in 2013, increased the sales tax and several other taxes in Northern Virginia and Tidewater.
And who stopped Marshall and Berg from killing the increase? Bob Marshall again:
Please ask your delegate why he or she voted to sustain a clearly erroneous non-germane ruling from the Speaker to prevent a vote on my amendment to cut the gas tax increase. Also ask why he or she did not demand a record vote to reinstate the “kill switch” to prevent the diversion of future transportation money to other uses.
Bill Howell stopped them, along with every other sitting house Republican (at least those present for the vote of 88-to-2).
Seems Marshall (and Berg) are declaring Howell to be the next target of the forces that ousted Joe May and Eric Cantor. Howell may really be in jeopardy. All the money in the world didn’t save Cantor, and Howell’s money wasn’t enough to save May. “Speaker Howell’s” transportation bill may do a bit to help our region but, with the tax increase actually coming to pay for it in his next election year, for Howell, the real bill may still be yet to come.