Arlington, VA -
Over the twenty four years that I have been in the Virginia Senate hundreds of people have asked me basically the same question: What is a nice lady like you doing in a place like Richmond?
It always makes me laugh but it also makes me ask myself: Why do I love being in the Virginia Senate? Especially over the past several months, I have been reassessing if I should run for a seventh term. Things are rough and often ugly in Richmond. We progressives are in a constant struggle with the overwhelmingly far right House of Delegates. Developing friendships or even working relationships across party and regional lines seems to be getting harder and harder.
Yet, I can't quit now! I really love fighting for our values. We can't stop working for a Virginia that cares for all its people and treats everyone fairly. I want to be on the front lines of this struggle. It may not be for everyone, but there is no better place for me than the Senate of Virginia.
Frankly, it is hard to admit but I am often motivated by outrage. I am outraged that a state as wealthy as Virginia is near the bottom in funding programs that help persons in need. I am outraged that we have not expanded Medicaid to provide healthcare for about 400,000 mostly working, adult neighbors. We've paid for it! I am outraged that Virginia seriously lags other states in what we are doing to protect our environment and forestall climate change. I am outraged that women's reproductive rights are constantly being whittled away. And, I am outraged that despite loud breast beating about the importance of education, we do very little to fund it.
Although I am often motivated by this outrage, my approach is to get deep in the details of policy. A few years ago, the Sun Gazette editorialized about me that "Howell is a serious player, not a show-horse, in the corridors of power in Richmond." I have always thought they got it right!
Usually I try to burrow deep into issues and figure out ways to get things accomplished. I drive to Richmond one or two times a week all year to participate in commissions, committees, and subcommittees. I am told no one serves on more than I do. I think it is important to get grounded on policy alternatives, know the other legislators (especially those who disagree with me), and work out compromises.
I have had much success over the past two decades moving Virginia forward.
Some issues I have become known for championing: I chaired the Family Violence Prevention Commission which rewrote and reformed how we deal with this widespread behavior. And, I have been patron of almost every piece of legislation and budget amendment dealing with the subject.
Our deplorably inadequate mental health programs have been a constant focus of mine. I have especially been instrumental in promoting programs to keep persons with mental illness out of jails. It is cruel and costly and must be stopped!
I have been instrumental in getting funding for HIV and AIDS prevention programs.
I am deeply committed to providing early childhood and early intervention programs for very young kids. For the past six months I have been travelling to Kentucky to work with other Southern legislators to develop goals for our states. Sadly, Virginia lags the rest of the South in services for young kids.
For years, we struggled to get funding for our deplorable transportation system. Finally in 2013 we were able to reach a compromise that provided enough money to make progress. I was one of the conferees who found that compromise. And I made sure the state put up an additional $300 million for the Silver Line!
Securing the future of our retirement systems has been a major, if little noticed, effort of mine. Virginia is finally committed to adequately funding our retirement system.
And, this session, I was able to find the compromise that provided $4 million a year for the Housing Trust Fund. And I secured a million dollars for permanent supportive housing.
Unfortunately, I do not serve on the committees that deal with environmental issues. But, nonetheless, I have had the best voting record in the Senate virtually every year the League of Conservation Voters has ranked us! And again this year, I have a 100% voting record.
For the past seven years, I have been a budget conferee. Regardless of which party has been in charge, the chairs of the Finance Committee have appointed me to negotiate with the House. It is tough and serious business. Each year I have learned a lot about the needs of Virginians and about the workings of state government and how to negotiate with the House.
It is experience I will need. Because, if I win reelection and if the Democrats take control of the Senate, I will be the first woman ever to chair the powerful Senate Finance Committee. WHEN that happens, you will see a change in priorities. Our Senate Democratic caucus is full of talented people eager for improvement who will help.
Investing in our people will be my top priority. Working with Governor McAuliffe, I will put education at all levels from birth through graduate school first. We will put programs to assist those in need high on our list. Virginia must not continue near the bottom of states on indicators of human services. We will do this in a fiscally responsible way, but we will do it!
But the first step is to win reelection. Yes, I am running!
I ask for YOUR support . And I ask for your vote!