Henry Howell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other people named Henry Howell, see Henry Howell (disambiguation).
Henry Howell
Henry Howell.jpg
Film still from Breakfast with Henry Howell, 1969
31st Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
In office
December 4, 1971 – January 12, 1974
Governor A. Linwood Holton, Jr.
Preceded by J. Sargeant Reynolds
Succeeded by John N. Dalton
Member of the Virginia Senate
from the 2nd district
In office
January 12, 1966 – December 4, 1971
Preceded by None (seat created)
Succeeded by Herbert H. Bateman
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Norfolk City
In office
January 8, 1964 – January 12, 1966
In office
January 13, 1960 – January 10, 1962
Personal details
Born September 5, 1920
Norfolk, Virginia
Died July 7, 1997(1997-07-07) (aged 76)
Norfolk, Virginia
Political party Democratic Party
Profession Attorney

Henry Evans Howell, Jr. (September 5, 1920 – July 7, 1997), nicknamed "Howlin'" Henry Howell, was an American politician from the U.S. state of Virginia. A progressive populist and a member of the Democratic Party, he served in both houses of the state legislature, was elected the 31st Lieutenant Governor of Virginia as an Independent Democrat, and made several runs for Governor.

Early life[edit]

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, Howell grew up in Norfolk. He earned a degree from the College of William and Mary in Norfolk, which is now known as Old Dominion University, and an LL.B from the University of Virginia.

Early political campaigns[edit]

Howell first became involved in political campaigns in 1949. He worked for unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Francis Pickens Miller against John S. Battle, the favored candidate of the Byrd Organization, the state's political machine, in the Democratic primary. After defeating Miller in the primary, Battle went on to win the general election. In 1952, Howell managed Miller's campaign against incumbent U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, the leader of the political machine, a campaign that Miller also lost.

The following year, Howell ran for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, but lost the election. In 1959, he was elected to the seat, but lost a campaign for re-election in 1961. He reclaimed the seat two years later in 1963 and was elected to a seat in the Virginia State Senate in 1965.

Statewide Virginia political campaigns[edit]

A fiery populist, Howell assailed big business, particularly banks, insurance companies, and monopolies. A favorite target was Dominion Virginia Power, then known as VEPCO, which Howell claimed stood for "Very Expensive Power Company." A supporter of civil rights for African Americans, Howell campaigned against massive resistance, was a major proponent of desegregation, and filed a successful lawsuit to abolish the state's poll tax. A believer in the right to organize, he often attempted to repeal Virginia's right-to-work law.

In 1969, Howell made his first run for Governor, challenging former Ambassador William C. Battle, son of former Governor John S. Battle, for the nomination. Battle won the primary, and went on to lose the election to A. Linwood Holton Jr., Virginia's first elected Republican governor and the first Republican to hold the office since Gilbert Carlton Walker in 1869. One analyst attributed Holton's victory not only to attracting liberal and African-American votes but also because Howell's backers had "bolted the party to nail the coffin shut' on the Byrd Organization.[1] Holton served until January 1974.

When popular Lieutenant Governor J. Sargeant Reynolds died in 1971, Howell entered the race to fill the remaining two years of his term. Running as an Independent Democrat, Howell campaigned on a promise to "Keep the Big Boys Honest, "a slogan he would retain in later campaigns. He received 362,371 votes (40%), compared to 334,580 votes (37%) for Democrat George J. Kostel and 209,861 votes (23%) for Republican George P. Shafran.

In 1973, Howell made his second run for governor, now as an Independent Democrat.[2] The state Democratic Party ran no candidate, and the Republicans nominated former Governor Mills E. Godwin Jr., a conservative Democrat who had chaired an organization called "Democrats for Nixon" in 1972.

The Virginian-Pilot described Howell's campaign: "He rumbled from one remote country store to another in a loudspeaker-equipped camper blaring hillbilly music.... He staged rallies with the trappings of revival tent meetings - live music, cardboard buckets for campaign offerings, and the candidate himself calling on the faithful to 'witness' for his cause with their votes."[citation needed]

Godwin won with 525,075 votes (50.72%) to Howell's 510,103 votes (49.28%), a narrow margin of 15,000 votes. Garrett Epps, a reporter for the Richmond Mercury, would later write a fictionalized account of the race, entitled The Shad Treatment. Howell later described the 1973 campaign as "the high point" of his life.

In 1977, Howell made his final run for elective office, campaigning for Governor as a Democrat. Although former State Attorney General Andrew P. Miller, his chief primary opponent, outspent him by a margin of 3-to-1, Howell defeated him in the primary with 253,373 votes (51%) but went on to lose the general election, taking 541,319 votes (43%) to Republican Lieutenant Governor John N. Dalton's 699,302 votes (56%). Charles Robb, who won election as Lieutenant Governor in that election, took action to align the personal animosity which had evolved between the Miller and Howell factions, by persuading former United States Senator William Spong to chair a commission to revitalize the state Democratic party.[3] Virginia Democrats then moved from a primary election to a convention system, and Robb's political career continued, but Howell's ended.

Death and legacy[edit]

After losing the 1977 election, Howell retired to Norfolk, dying of natural causes on July 7, 1997.

Although he failed to win Virginia's highest office, Howell put a definitive end to the rule of the conservative Byrd machine, helped consolidate gains of the Civil Rights Movement, and partnered with and mobilized newly enfranchised African-American voters. He offered the previously marginalized unprecedented recognition and respect in the state's transforming politics. He was more progressive, less compromising, and more anti-Establishment than most of the so-called "New South" Democrats who emerged in the 1970s, such as Jimmy Carter, Reubin Askew, and Dale Bumpers. That hampered his success in a state that had rarely experienced a strong populist movement. However, his rejection of Virginia's racist legacy and the cross-racial coalitions he built prefigured the historic 1989 election of L. Douglas Wilder as the state's first African-American governor, as well as Barack Obama's victories in Virginia in two consecutive presidential elections. Eulogizing Howell, political scientist Larry Sabato praised how he drew support both from liberals and conservatives because he sought "power not for its own sake but to help others, to serve people and not the political class."[4]

Notable quotations[edit]

  • Keep the big boys honest and make the system work!
  • Get Virginia out of the Byrd cage!
  • Don't go along to get along; avoid the chloroform of conformity!
  • A liberal in Virginia is anybody who believes in life after birth!
  • There's more going around in the dark than Santa Claus, and hanky-panky is its name!
  • An eagle cannot fly with two right wings.


  1. ^ Frank B. Atkinson, Virginia in the Vanguard (university of Virginia Press, 2006) p. 21
  2. ^ "Howell: More interested in issues than in party machinery". The Free Lance-Star. October 25, 1973. 
  3. ^ Atkinson, p. 9
  4. ^ Atkinson, p. 246 n.1 citing remarks on file with the author.
Senate of Virginia
Preceded by
newly created seat
Virginia Senate, District 2
Served alongside: Robert F. Baldwin, Edward L. Breeden, Peter K. Babalas
Succeeded by
Herbert H. Bateman
Political offices
Preceded by
J. Sargeant Reynolds
Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
Succeeded by
John N. Dalton