At 12:04 p.m. today the gavel pounded in the Virginia House of Delegates and for the next hour the 100 delegates exercised the rituals of a governing body - a quaint pageant to the uninitiated, a symbol of legitimacy to the familiar.
The gold-wash mace was carried in and placed in its berth by Sergeant-at-Arms W. Lewis Smith. Next, everyone rose and was held in prayer by the Rev. Craig Biddle III of nearby St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Then clerk Joseph Holleman read aloud the names of each of the delegates as well as the areas they represent.
They all swore to support the constitutions of the U.S. and the commonwealth of Virginia, reading from a mimeographed sheet that had been placed on each delegate's desk. "Where's the pen and pencil set we usually get?" Del. Richard C. Cranwell (D-Roanoke) had asked earlier, "We usually have those, too." Del. Elise Heinz (D-Arlington) inked out the "his" in "his duties" and wrote in "her." "For Heaven's sake, the first woman was elected 50 years ago and they still have "his," she said.
From then on it was a question of playing out the expected as the Virginia General Assembly convened for its 60-day term. Speaker John Warren Cooke, to complete the ritual, had taken his place at a desk with the other delegates and then left the room while his colleagues went through the formaility of nominating him, seconding the nomination, and voting to elect him to his sixth two year term as speaker.
That vote was about as suspenseful as a vote to salute the flag. Cooke has served 19 consecutive two-year terms in the House, and the last 10 years as speaker. Clark Holleman said after the vote that "having received a majority of the votes cast" Cooke was duly elected, and appointed several legislators to escort Cooke to the rostrum.
They applauded when he came in. They applauded after his brief remarks after he was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice and former governor Albertis S. Harrison. They applauded when Holleman was nominated to continue in his job as clerk, and when Smith was voted in anew as seargeant-at-arms.
"This is what you call pomp and circumstance," Del. Frank Slayton (D-Halifax) explained to no one in particular.
"I believe I am the 20th clerk elected since 1776," Holleman said after he was sworn in.
Majority Leader A. L. Philpott man" to advise the Senate they had moved that "the rules" be adopted. They were. Cooke asked "the gentleman" to advise the Senate they had done so. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax) was waiting by the Sergeant-at-arms, who announced he had come with a message.
"The Senate is duly organized and ready to proceed," Brault said, and left.A resolution to form a committee of five delegates and three senators to "notify the governor" that the legislature was ready was introduced, and another resolution that the Senate should join the House for a joint session to "receive the governor," was also put forth. The fact that the governor's 1 p.m. visit had been scheduled for months was totally irrelevant.
Shortly afterward, Brault returned to announce that the Senate had agreed to the committee. Brault was to return with several more "messages" as the Senate routinely voted on each measure.
Subsequently, the Senators, led by their President Pro Tem Edward E. Willey (D-Richmond), marched into the House and sat on folding chairs placed in the aisles and in the rear of the room. The committee was appointed and left the chamber to notify the governor that the legislature would receive him.
Even within the context of thig tight minuet the signs of change and rumblings of future controversy could be glimpsed. The three new black legislators were mute evidence of change, as were three new women. Black Del. Bobby Scott (D-Hampton) wore a gold NAACP emblem on his lapel; he said it had no "particular" significance, but there are many citizens still active who remember the legislature during the days when it passed laws aimed at putting NAACP out of business in Virginia.
Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment, who have for the first time organized a full-time lobbying office across the street, were well in evidence.
Then Gov. Mills E. Godwin arrived, precisely one hour after the opening gavel had pounded. Escorted by his committee of legislators, Godwin ascends to the rostrum and began his final speech to the country's oldest continuing legislative body, which first met in the year 1619.