Former House Speaker William J. Howell is returning to the battle over public policy in the Virginia General Assembly, but in a different role than he served as leader of the House of Delegates for 15 years.
Howell, a Republican from Stafford County who served in the House for 30 years before retiring in 2017, is the new chairman of the board of directors at the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, a conservative policy think tank that touts free markets and limited government.
“He’s a superb fit,” said Chris Braunlich, president of the 24-year-old institute. “He brings to our institute the knowledge of the workings of the General Assembly.”
When Howell retired, Republicans held two-thirds of the seats in the House. Democrats made big gains in the 2017 House elections and gained control of the House in the 2019 contests, spurred by then-President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in Virginia. The institute, founded by Mike Thompson in 1997, is looking to raise its profile in public policy debates since his death in late 2019.
“There is a need for a vigorous, free-market, center-right organization that can help develop good policy, promote good policy and ensure that it works,” Braunlich said in an interview on Thursday.
Howell had joined the institute’s board in June, but was elected chairman in December to replace Randal Teague, a retired attorney who had served as an aide to Rep. Jack Kemp, a Republican from New York.
A longtime advocate of policies advanced by the American Legislative Exchange Council, Howell led the legislative fight against expanding Virginia’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. After he stepped down in 2018, the assembly narrowly voted to expand the health care program.
“I’m enthusiastic about what lies ahead,” Howell said in a statement this week. “My goal for Virginia has always been to make the commonwealth an exceptional state where men and women can get ahead through hard work and determination, pursue their dreams and raise their families.”
“The commonwealth and our nation is in the midst of challenging days,” he said, “and I look forward to helping the Thomas Jefferson Institute research, create and promote public policy solutions advancing prosperity and opportunity for all Virginians.”