Jason Howell has no previous government experience, but that hasn’t stopped him from aiming high in his political aspirations. Howell, who is running as an independent for Virginia’s 8th Congressional District, the seat currently held by Democrat Jim Moran, said Congress is where the problem lies.
“When there’s a fire in the kitchen, you don’t go to the bedroom to put it out,” Howell said. “That’s where the biggest challenge is. There are zero independents right now in the House of Representatives, and that’s part and parcel [to] that sort of gridlock that we have. ... In the mix, the issues that are really important, the ones that matter, kind of get lost, and the people that you’re supposed to be representing aren’t represented as much because you’re representing a team rather than a constituency.”
The 8th district currently includes parts of Reston, Vienna, Falls Church, Arlington, Alexandria City and a large portion of Alexandria south of the Beltway. With redistricting for the 2012 elections, the district loses parts of Reston and Vienna, but adds half of McLean, spreads west into West Springfield and south into Lorton. (See a map of the new and old 8th district for more information.)
Howell, 37, lives with his wife in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington. His parents were immigrants who moved to California in the late 1960s. He later lived in the Caribbean with his family before moving to Northern Virginia as a teenager. He earned his associate’s degree from Northern Virginia Community College and later transferred to George Mason University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in accounting.
Howell began his career as an accountant, then started his own accounting business for musicians. He worked for one year as controller for what is now Jiffy Lube Live and later became a recruiter for three years for a company called Axis, currently a division of Randstad.
Those experiences, along with the recession, prompted him to write a self-published book, “America: Still the Land of Opportunity, Always a Home for the Brave.” He subsequently became a motivational speaker, which he did through last summer, when he began writing a book on patriotic development.
“I was writing that book, and I had C-SPAN on, and I was watching them kind of create this debt crisis, and that’s when it struck me that we, people in our generation, need to do something rather than just watch,” he said. “And here I was, writing about a concept that I believed in, and I needed to maybe be about it, because the country was calling. And that’s when I decided to run for office.”
Howell said the reason the U.S. credit rating was downgraded in 2011 was because politics broke down, politics generated by polarizing district politics that produces politicians on the far right or far left.
“(My) running as an independent is an opportunity for the 8th District to break that grip, to say, ‘You know what, we the people are still running things, and no matter how you gerrymander this district, or any district across the country, we can send a message to Congress by sending an independent to Congress,’ and really sort of make history by replacing an incumbent with an independent,” he said.
He proposes to manage traffic and federal transportation funding from a different angle. Many workers in the 8th District are knowledge-based workers, Howell said, who really don’t need to go to an office every day to work. He promotes a concept called “hoteling,” in which employees telecommute and visit the office as needed by reserving a space.
Companies including Booz Allen Hamilton already use a similar strategy, he said. “It’s the difference between a 20th-century look at how to fix things and a 21st-century look.”
On education, Howell also sees room for innovation without increasing costs by introducing student achievement measurements that track each student’s progress rather than subject mastery level at the end of the year. He would enhance No Child Left Behind by including these progress-based measures into the system, he said.
On gay marriage, Howell is for “enhanced civil unions,” which would afford gay couples all legal rights associated with marriage in all states, but stops short of supporting gay marriage nationwide. He is also pro-choice.
Howell said he has raised funds to date in the campaign -- none have yet been reported -- but he admits his funds are a far cry from the $462,964 raised by Moran, as reported by OpenSecrets.org.
Howell also said being younger than some opponents was an advantage in the race. “A lot of the our other legislators who are in office now, they’re from an entirely different generation,” he said.
“This is a new kind of world. It is a global society, whether we acknowledge it or not, and America needs to compete in a way that it hasn’t had to compete for the past 30, 40 years. So it really is incumbent upon Generation X, in a way, to say, this is our time, and, in all honesty, it is our turn.”
Felix Jarusewic, who worked together with Howell in the Reston-Herndon Toastmasters Club, where Howell served as president, called him a man with much charm.
“The minute you’re talking to him, you get the impression you like the guy, and there’s an element of trust there, and he’s not going to ask you to do something he wouldn’t do himself,” Jarusewic said.
He also said Howell’s political philosophy appeals to him. “What I notice is he’s got a real good chance here to make a difference with his thoughts,” he said. … “He can be a really refreshing voice. It’s just a matter of him getting heard.”
Ana Tolentino, who met Howell when he was president of the local chapter of ALPFA, a national organization for Hispanics in business and finance, and she was treasurer. Howell took her under his wing and helped her with accounting matters, Tolentino said.
“He’s just a genuinely a good person,” she said. “I think he has great intentions, and I think he’s going to be very successful in his future, and he really cares about people and about what’s right for everybody.”
Read more about Howell on his website.