After James F. Almand was assigned to the important Court of Justice Committee of the House of Delegates and Elise B. Heinz, his freshman Democratic colleague from Arlington, was not, an explanation was passed along through the Northern Virginia delegation.
"Almand, I hear, is a relative of the chairman of the committee," said Del. Raymond E. Vickery Jr. (D-Fairfax). "They're both from Lunenburg County. I think they're cousins."
Heinz said she had heard that Almand was a nephew of the committee chairman, George E. Allen Jr. (D-Richmond).
But Almand and Allen are not related. In fact, Allen said, he had to have someone point out Almand when House members were sworn in last week.
Because politics is one of the elements in the committee selection process, which is entirely in the hands of House Speaker John Warren Cooke, there are bound to be dark theories to explain why one person was favored over another. In such an atmosphere, it would not be surprising for cronyism or even nepotism to be suspected as a factor in selection.
What committees a freshman is named to can have a critical bearing on his or her career because some committees consider more significant legislation than others. A delegate who is re-elected can try to switch to a more desirable committee, but only at the cost of relinquishing accumulated seniority on the first committee.
The story of the nonexistent Almand-Allen relationship seems to have been based on one certain, if wispy, connection. They both are originally from Lunenburg County.
Allen recalled yesterday that during a Democratic caucus fight in November, he called Almand in an effort to line up some support. "I said to him, jokingly, 'everybody from Lunenburg County is related. We must be kin.'"
Lunenburg is a small rural county southwest of Richmond.
Allen, who, like other committee chairmen, gave Speaker Cooke suggestions for prospective committee appointments, did mention some other reasons why Almand was selected over Heinz:
He has a background as assistant commonwealth's attorney (Heinz did not) and letters of recommendation from Sen. Edward M. Holland (D-Arlington) and former Del. John L. Melnick (D-Arlington), who had held the Courts of Justice seat filled by Almand.
Allen also noted: "She (Heinz) was a rabid ERA supporter, and I was opposed to ERA.
Heinz said she was disappointed at not being named to Courts of Justice, which considers proposed revisions of Virginia criminal laws and reviews the qualifications of prospective state judges. She was named to the General Laws Committee, which traditionally has considered a wide range of significant pieces of legislation, and conservation and Natural Resources.
Another Northern Virginia freshman, Del. Gladys Keating (D-Fairfax), said, "I got my No. 1 choice." Keating was named to Counties, Cities and Towns, which will be taking up some controversial and important bills on the future powers of large, urban counties like Fairfax and whether they will be immune to annexation efforts by neighboring cities.
Another freshman who was pleased with his assignments was Del. Martin H. Perper (R-Fairfax). He was named to his first choice, Finance, which considers legislation on taxation.
Freshman Robert Thoburn, who runs the private Fairfax Christian School, (R-Fairfax) wanted to be on Education, but instead was put on Conservation and Natural Resources and Agriculture. "They're not what I wanted," he said, "but I'm very pleased with them . . . I did run the family farm. I feel I can make a real contribution.
Freshamn Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax) wanted a seat on Health, Welfare and Institutions, but was assigned to his second choice, Education, along with Militia and Police, a minor committee that meets only at the call of its chairman. Plum thinks he got Education because of his background as an educator in the Fairfax public school system.
Del. Gary R. Myers, a Republican freshman from Alexandria, wanted to be on Privileges and Elections, one of the major committees, which among other things, deals with election district reapportionment. Instead he was appointed to another major panel, Education. His second assignment was Mining and Mineral Resources.
Though there is no mining or other resource extraction in Northern Virginia, Myers looked on the bright side.
"It represents the potential for a tradeoff on votes on other issues with the part of the state where mining is more crucial," he said.