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Howell apologizes to ProgressVA director

House Speaker Bill Howell has apologized to the director of a liberal activist group after a confrontation Thursday in which he suggested he was using words too complicated for her to understand.

In a statement Friday, Howell said he had called Scholl and “offered my sincere and heartfelt apology for my comments.”

Scholl is director of ProgressVA, a group that has been highly critical of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative policy group of which Howell is a board member. ProgressVA has specifically criticized ALEC’s close ties to corporations and its promotion of “model” bills in statehouses around the country.

ProgressVA and other progressive groups around the country have been pushing corporate sponsors to abandon ALEC, and several have in recent weeks.

Howell defended ALEC when asked about the corporate defections at a news conference in Richmond on Thursday, accusing groups like ProgressVA of using distortions and inaccuracies to smear ALEC.

It was after the news conference that Howell and Scholl tangled. She asked Howell what exactly he felt was inaccurate about her group’s reports on ALEC and its influence on state lawmakers.

In the course of the argument, Howell said, “I guess I’m not speaking in little enough words for you to understand.”

“I’m a smart girl, actually,” Scholl answered. “I went to the University of Virginia. I benefited from public education in Virginia. I think words with multiple syllables will be just fine for me.”

A staffer with the Democratic Party of Virginia caught the exchange on video and posted it online. It made the rounds of the Internet and by Friday, two women’s political groups — the Farm Team and the Women’s Strike Force — were lambasting Howell for a “patronizing” and “offensive attitude towards women.”

Howell said his comment to Scholl was “not consistent with my own standards of civility or reflective of the way I believe discussions over public policy disagreements should be conducted.”