The first public jousting of the season took place in the Virginia State Senate yesterday over the question of which political party should control state and local electoral boards. The final score was Democrats: 28, Republicans: 9.
Those Senators who enjoy the subtleties and broadsides of debate could hold forth nearly unabated. There in the Republicans corner, the folksy and endearing William A. Truban, the veterinarian from Shenandoah who is the Republican minority leader, teamed with the incisive and passionate Wiley F. Mitchell, the gentlemen from Alexandria, and the ponderous Herbert H. Bateman from Newport News.
And in the Democrat's corner, expansive Dudley J. (Buzz) Emick Jr. from Botetourt, followed by the courtly and elegant J. Harry (Nick) Michael from Charlottsville and a final wind-up from a Bible-quoting, phrase-toting Joseph V. Gartian Jr. of Fairfax.
What a line-up! Something for everyone. How their voices rose and fell, how their gestures slashed through the space around them and how they enjoyed themselves.
"This is no medieval morality play . . ." said Gartlan, "This is simply a little contest between them and us . . . Let us have done please with this pictous moralizing. The struggle we have here today is a partisan political power struggle and no one here should shrink from it or apoligize."
The bill that occasioned all this would change control of electoral boards from hte Republicans to the Democrats by changing the majority of the three-person boards from the party of the governor ot the party of the majority of the General Assembly.
The Democrats, most of them, say they are the dominant political party in the state because they hold 76 of the 100 House seats and 35 seats in the 40-member Senate. The Repunlicans say they are dominant becuase they elected a Republican governor, one Senator, and a six Congressmen.
THe bill has become a political test for the Democrats, since lack of success in statewide races is a source of continuing disarray within their party. Since there is a strong possibility that Republican Gov. John N. Dalton will veto the bill, it was necessary for the Senate to put up a good showing, both with an eye toward gathering the 27 votes needed in the Senate to over-ride a veto and the fate of the bill in the House.
Efforts to alter the bill with amendmnets that would have pushed its effective date to 1980 and to allow general election results to guide the appointment of local but not state electoral boards failde with 23 Senators voting against them - too few for a veto over-ride. Originally all 35 Democratic Senators had signed on as copatrons; five of them voted against the bill today and one, President protem Edward E. Willey, abstained.
Another effort to amend the bill by Sen. A. Joseph Canada (R-Virginia Beach), who proposed that a $50 bounty for the scalp or tail of "Democrats and jackasses" be added, was ruled "not germane" by Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb. Canada, who was defeated by Robb last fall, said "If I were up there in your shoes I think I'd rule the same way . . . My amendment makes as much sense as this bill."
"Wipe that holy look off your faces," Emick started out, directing his words at the Republican corner, "I detect the slightest smirks on your faces . . . This bill is politics, but it's not dirty politics. It's nuances to have the nuances our way."
Republicans have sworn to defeat Democrats all over the state, Emick continued. "We're not goin' to take it sittin' down. We're goin' to fight back, and this is the first round."
That was no smirk, retorted Mitchell, spitting out his words like ice cubes, "nor was it it affected piety. It was unbridled delight ! I could not not be more pleased at the sense of priorities the Democratic leadership has shown . . . After three consecutive weeks the most important piece of legislation is a piece of hardball politics addressed at a minority of Republicans whose only sin is that they've been doing a good job."
So it went. Gartln, the last speaker, noted that neither side had questioned the basic premise that one party should control the electoral boards - the argument was over which is the dominant party. He traced the state's rather eclectic recent political past, including the election of Mills E. Godwin as governor, once as a Democrat and once as a Republican.
"Domination? Poppycock!" he declared, "It just doesn't happen any more. The fact is that people are caring less and less about political parties . . . We are witnessing in Virginia the development of the two-party system, and increasing independence of this legislature from executive domination."
THe measure goes now to the House of Delegates, where its future is by no means certain.
Earlier, both houses of the legislature spent several hours in the ritual of nominating and electing judges. Since the actual choosing of judges is done in secret caucuses, there was no controversy except in the reqppointment of Junie L. Bradshaw to a second six-year term on the State Corporation Commission. Sen. Virgil Goode (D-Rocky Mount) voted against Bradshaw to protest the actions of the SCC in granting rate increases of "millions upon millions" of dollars to utility companies.
In another legislative development, Gov. John N. Dalton asked the House Appropriations Committee for authority to pay his six cabinet members from $52,000 to $56,000 a year, compared with the present range of $41,200 to $43,400. Dalton said he intends to pay all six the same salary.
He also asked for authority to pay department heads salaries ranging from $20,500 in the lowest of six executive pay levels to $51,000 at the top of the highest level. The maximum salary for an agency head now is about $48,000.
The salary ranges were recommended to the state in a private consultant's study.
Dalton also asked the Committee to provide for a general state employe pay rise of 48 percent in the second year of the two-year budget, effective on Jan. 1, 1980. This will mean an 18-month lapse between the next general raise recommended by Godwin to be effective on July 1 of this year and the raise proposed by Dalton. Godwin's proposal did not provide for a raise in the second year of the budget.