Better Fellows sought despite Howell’s resistance

Daniel Cortez 2By Daniel P. Cortez

In spite of being politically jaded, I recently visited the General Assembly. Yes, the extreme partisanship and elitism of some of Virginia’s legislators was evident. But I found hope in our young people’s involvement through the Governor’s Fellows Program. Even as whispers were rampant about Stafford’s 71-year-old Delegate William J. Howell.

When not in session, politicos scurried in and out of meetings with special interest groups and citizens. Clearly the Cantor catastrophe had conservatives up for election somewhat edgy. Many attempt to soften their image or cotton up to tea party extremists in hopes of not being primaried. One even brought in his dog.

Others use respected colleagues to challenge newsprint about a legislator’s alleged shortcomings. Delegate Steve Landes of the 25th House District reaffirmed the unprejudiced character of Howell, who was emasculated in a recent scathing editorial by the Washington Post. The article inferred Howell’s callous actions countered Governor McAuliffe’s compassionate desire to provide coverage through the affordable care act for 400,000 adults, many who are minorities and immigrants. It suggested comparison to the actions of an avowed racist and white supremacist, the late Sen. Harry F. Byrd.

Well, when it comes to Howell and his advocates, actions speak louder than words. In the minority community I have lived in for 30 plus years, it sincerely saddens me to agree with the Post’s comparison. Clearly such cognitive dissonance was suggested decades ago when Stafford citizens rebuked Howell considering a run for Congress.

Modern day Virginia might re-elect an aging septuagenarian delegate in his last hurrah, but never a congressman or senator demonstrating “Byrd-like tendencies.” Tragically, the political fallout over labeling may be irreversibly defining. No doubt Howell’s political opponents are salivating as they are handed bombshell material for vicious anti-incumbent media ads prior to Election Day.
Such melodrama, as the youth of the Commonwealth observe. Troubling, but then hopefully they see the fate of past discriminating folly, and steer a future all-embracing course. But how do we motivate them to ignore troubling actions or comparisons and seek involvement in Virginia’s rough and tumble political atmosphere?

The Governor’s Fellows Program is indeed one way. Established in 1982, the program seeks exceptionally creative rising college seniors, graduating seniors, or those enrolled as degree candidates in graduate school. Selection of Fellows is based solely on merit without regard to race, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability, or political leaning.

The Fellows I’ve observed working in Richmond are clearly involved in community service and committed to excellence in academics, but busy. Stafford area students, if chosen, could find themselves in various positions in the Governor’s Office and the various agencies of the Executive Branch.

The McAuliffe administration is actively seeking applicants for next year’s program. For many the experience could lead to careers in public service. Deadline for applying is March 1, 2015, and those interested should get an online application providing specificity on the program (see Governor’s Fellows Program).

Serving as a Fellow should be a home dinner or classroom topic as well as Speaker Howell who is facing a primary challenge from controversial Tea Party supporter Susan Stimpson. Attempts to contact the Stimpson campaign by phone and email were not responded to, as to what medical plan she supports for Virginia’s needy 400,000.

As the 28th District primary race heats up, voters should be considering who would be the least of the two evils in office. The same question remains if and when Democrat Kandy Hilliard, the former Aquia Supervisor, throws her hat in the ring once the Republican challenger is decided June 9th.

Regardless of what transpires in the Stimpson-Howell primary or beyond, Virginia Fellows are clearly exposed to real-time issues of our infamous and scandalous elected officials. But I have faith and hope in the quality of young men and women I observed. Virginia’s future will indeed be in the hands of better Fellows. And for many in the 28th District, it can’t come soon enough.

And perhaps not directly related but equally as prevalent is Virginia’s need to find one young man or woman paying close attention to the disgraceful recent actions of the RPV and who will endeavor to serve in the future as responsibly as the soon-to-be-outgoing Executive Director Shaun Kenney … one decent man who never forgot how to serve Virginia honorably. Were they all to do so without prejudice and his due diligence.

Daniel Cortez, a distinguished Vietnam veteran and award winning writer/broadcaster, is active in veterans and political affairs with an independent voter perspective. He can be reached at

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