Archibald A. Campbell (D-Whythe) cupped a matchbook over his pipe and puffed billows of gray smoke into the air of a State Capitol meeting room as he graveled his 20-member committee of the Virginia House of Delegates to order.
The committee, Campbell announced, wasn't going to do any business that day. Someone - Campbell didn't say who - had forgotten to send out meeting notices to the legislators who had bills before the committee.
So Campbell's House Finance Committee, probably one of the most important committees in a session that is expected to be dominated by revenue shortages, did nothing. Nor was Campbell, he told reporters later, eager to press ahead with any major tax measures.
It was, some of Campbell's critics would say, typical of the committee's leadership and a major reason some legislators here are uneasy about prospects for resolving the state's expected $103 million revenue shortage with measures devised by Campbell. "Archie Campbell could screw up a two-car funeral procession," groused a ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee last March as a tax package approved by Campbell's committee was torn into a shambles on the House floor.
Campbell, 55, a 10-year veteran of the Assembly, concedes that last year was a "debacle" for the legislature, but it hasn't made him eager to press this year for new taxes. "Well, I don't . . . no . . . nobody wants to" raise taxes, he said the other day.
All of which infurates some legislators who claim Campbell's attitude ignores the pressing need for some state services and new buildings and threatens another legislative quagmire. "You can't sit here and duck these issues forever," snapped Sen. Edward E. Willey (D-Richmond), Campbell's counterpart in the 40-member State Senate.
Campbell, who said he would rather have his committee studying the long-range implications of Virginia tax laws than the need for new tax measures, professes little desire to negotiate a settlement of the current impasse with other legislative leaders, Willey complained.
Even when Campbell joins the discussions he is less than a willing participant, Willey said. "He just sits there and grins."
Campbell's seeming uncertainty and indecision reflects the mood of the current legislature, others here argue. The committee "is a mirror of the people of Virginia and, therefore, of the legislature," said Del. Carrington Williams (D-Fairfax), a member of Campbell's committee and a legislator who last year argued for new revenue measures.
"You ask Archie to be a strong leader?" William asked. "For what? More taxes? The people don't want any more taxes."
For his part, Campbell has argued that new taxes are not necessary to make up of all the $103 million revenue shortfall that Gov. Mills E. Godwin has estimated Virginia will have at the end of the current biennium. The current budget, Campbell insisted to reporters this week, is certain to contain excess programs that can be trimmed.
Where? a reporter asked.
"Coffee," Campbell replied.
"Coffee?" a newsman asked.
"Coffee," Campbell nodded. "That is a bit thing. All those state employees taking two-hour coffee breaks."
Whether or not Campbell was kidding, neither his critics for his supporters doubt that he has grave misgivings about the rapid growth of state government in the past 10 years and that he would like to do something to stop it.
Campbell's consevativism springs from his mountainous district in Southwest Virginia where "people tend to distrust state government and think it is in a lot of things that it shouldn't be," said Gary Bruns, Campbell's legislative aide.
Polls conducted by two weekly newspapers there tend to confirm Campbell's position, indicating that more than half the residents would like to see the state cut its spending, according to Burns. Such sentiments are not restricted to the rural areas of the state, said Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington), another member of Campbell's committee.
Although Stambaugh last year gave up his $18,000-a-year public relations job rather than forgo meetings of the committee, he admits that serving on it is hardly a political plum. "Who the hell wants to be known as the tax raisers?" Stambaugh asked.
Thanks to a state tradition of grossly underestimating tax revenues, the committee until last year was never faced with the unpleasant task of approving major revenue measures to fund existing programs, committee members say. "It used to be that the most important thing the committee had to do was to decide which special interest would get a tax break," said one committee member who asked to remain unnamed.
Not only had the problem facing the committee changed, but the mood of its members change also, others say. The committee, whose membership is one-fifth the size of the 100-member House, has become "a bunch of renegades . . . a bunch of rebels," according to Del. Warren E. Barry of Fairfax, one of three Republicans on the committee.
No longer is the committee willing to accept the recommendations of either the governor of the once-powerful House Appropriations Committee as to how much money the state should be spending, Campbell said. The committee members want to be convinced independtly of the spending needs before they will vote new taxes, he said.
Even if a majority have reached a consensus on a measure some legislators complain there is no certainity that Campbell will go along. "Archie is, in all too many instances, out of step with the majority," Barry said.
A descendant of a political family that was once allied with the conservative Byrd wing of the Democratic Party, Campbell conceded that he has philosophical difficulties over new taxes, not to mention difficulties over tanking a forceful lead in running the committee.
"I can remember it said that a committee chairman would take a bill and put it in his pocket" rather than report it to the full House for action, Campbell said. "I abhor the traditional old image of a chairman who runs his committee," Campbell said. "I do try to lead the committee, rather than operate the committee . . . Consequently you could say that committee lacks leadership. What it lacks is bossism."
Campbell says it shouldn't be up to his committee to take the initiative on taxes; that should be the governor's duty. (Godwin has made it clear he won't propose any tax measures this session.) The need for those taxes should be backed up by state agency heads, a task, Campbell says, that Virginia officials have failed in miserably.
"They can't even tell you how many positions are vacant in state government," Campbell said the other day. And, until he gets some answers, Campbell said he will not be in a mood to press for any new legislation.