A 22-year veteran of the General Assembly who has served as majority leader in the House of Delegates since 1968 and is next in line to become speaker would ordinarily seem to have little trouble getting re-elected. But Democrat Jim Thomson finds himself in the midst of another close race in the 21st district in Alexandria.
Thomson is running against Republican Gary Myers, a 33-year-old attorney who is trying to make the most of Thomson's unabashed opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. The third candidate in the three-way race for the two seats from Alexandria is Richard R. G. Hobson, 46, a Democrat who was first elected to the legislature two years ago.
Although both Thomson and Hobson say they are strongly supporting each other against Myers, the two Democrats differ on the ERA issue. Hobson admits that "between Gary Myers and me there are very few substantive differences on legislation."
Thomson is stressing his seniority in the campaign, quickly pointing out to interviewers that if re-elected he will become chairman of the appropriations committee in the house.
"If out of 140 people in the legislature one of them is going to be responsible for putting together the budget, that's the person one would look to to fill norhtern Virginia's needs," Thomson said during an interview.
Thomson is also not reticent about pointing ou that he may become speaker of the House of Delegates in two to four years, a position that would give him power to hand out committee assignments to all members of the house.
But Myers is not impressed with Thomson's argument that as chairman of the appropriations committee he would be in a position to give more money to this area.
"The notion that the cornucopia is going to open up is inconsistent with the realities of the marketplace," said Myers, who pointed out that the $8 million bond issue, which he supports, will actually cost the taxpayers of this area more to pay off than the money it will bring in. Myers charged that Hobson and Thomson should have tried to prevent that situation.
Speaking to Thomson, Myers added: "He can't say that his influence will bring money to northern Virginia on the one hand but that his influence can't do anything with respect to the ERA. He either is influential or he's not."
Myers has charged that as chairman of the privileges and elections committee Thomson has not permitted the ERA amendment to reach the house floor for a vote. But Thomson argues that the majority of the committee is against the amendment and there is nothing he can do about it.
Thomson, who was an avowed segregationist during the 1950s and '60s, insists he is not against equal rights for women. To prove the point, he said he supported the equal rights amendment passed by the legislature in 1971 and pointed to his sponsorship of a bill that assured women equal pay for equal work. "I was a leader in the field," he said of his work on women's issues.
But Thomson is against the ERA because he said that if the draft is re-instated it will mean that "when you pick combat troops you have to take women on the same basis as men!"
The amendment, he added, will also mean an end to separate public facilities for men and women. "I think there are a lot of women as well as men who don't want joint public facilities," said Thomson.
The majority leader said many states "don't believe this will happen. They're not even thinking in those terms." But Thomson insists that that will be the result if the amendment is added to the Constitution.
Myers say he believes those arguments to be downright silly. "I have somewhat more confidence in common sense than to try and create every imaginable fantasy that could exist," he said.
Myers said he agrees that women would be drafted if the amendment is approved, but he added that the Supreme Court has recognized in the past that the military is in a "peculiar" position and has therefore curtailed First Amendment rights as they pertain to persons in the armed services.
"By analogy, the same thing will hold with regards to the ERA," Myers said, adding: "I just don't view it as a problem that is going to bring the military to a grinding halt."
Hobson said passage of the ERA is a matter of basic fairness. "Virginia was in the forefront under George Mason in insisting that the federal constitution include a Bill of Rights," he said. "It is the height of irony for Virginia now, which has an equal rights amendment in its own constitution, to say it should not be in the federal constitution."
Hobson said he is working on a rule change that would force the privileges and elections committee to report constitutional amendments to the floor of the house whether or not there is support for the amendment in the committee.
Hobson charged that Myers has not committed himself on the issues and that he has not been involved in the community. One issue on which he and Myers do differ is on a bill introduced by Thomson that would permit collective bargaining between public employees and the state and local governments.
Until last January, about 12 Virginia jurisdictions negotiated contracts with city and county employees, but the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that local governments do not have the power to negotiate with employee representatives and invalidated the existing contracts. The law now being debated in the legislature would give local jurisdictions that power.
Myers said he would vote for the bill because he believes in self-determination for local governments, but that he will oppose its implementation in Alexandria.
Myers argued that the law "would create an environment where public employees would be dictating the terms of how the government is to function." He said the law would put unions on an equal footing with elected officials, thereby impairing delivery of public services.
Hobson said Myers is unrealistic on the issue and points out that the bill includes a no-strike clause with heavy penalties if it is violated.
On other matters Hobson stressed his fight for consumer protection. He introduced a bill passed by the legislature which requires the State Public Service Commission to hold public hearings on utility rate increases whenever 20 or more customers protest. He also supported a bill that would have created a consumer council to present the public's view before the Public Service Commission.
Hobson said the major thrust of his efforts in the legislature have been to make the system more responsive to the needs of people in this area. Arguing that the state Democratic Party is now more open than in the past. Hobson said the job now is "to translate that openess and willingness to serve the public into effectiveness in the General Assembly."
Myers said the state should develop a water master plan so that water supplies in the area can be interlinked and said it is essential to tap water from the Potomac River if the region wants to grow. He also believes the state government should begin to utilize solar energy to generate electricity and said the technology is already available to do this.
Thomson points to his role in securing funds for Metro construction - $10 million in 1977 - and for educational and health institutions.