The voters of the great Commonwealth of Virginia was wondering what their elected representatives in the state Senate do on a day when they don't have much to do -- a day like yesterday, for example, when there was only one bill on the calendar.
They introduce visitors from the gallery and argue about the stairwell fire doors in their new office building.
Don't get the impression that the gentlemen of the Senate haven't been working hard; they have. But yesterday was the day after both houses' self-imposed deadline for dealing with their own legislation, and there is now a momentary pause as the bills approved by one body are sent over to the other to begin the second half of the legislative process.
So at this point the bills are being funneled into committees and debated in public hearings and lawmakers are being lobbied in the hallways and offices of the Capitol complex. It's a time to briefly catch one's breath, gather forces for fights ahead, and deal with some of those little things that have been neglected during the recent crush of business.
There is plenty of time for senators to ingratiate themselves with visiting constituents by welcoming their presence in the gallery, a familiar ritual that seemed lengthier than usual yesterday. There were Young Republicans from Newport News, Garden Club members from Roanoke, eighth graders from Essex, and the honorable mayor of Dillwyn, among others.
Then Sen. Willard Moody (D-Postsmouth), chairman of the Rules Committee, stood to make an announcement. It seems that he has received numerous complaints from legislators who want to walk up the stairs in the new, $20.6-million office building instead of waiting for the elevators, and are having problems because the doors leading to the stairwell on each floor are locked.
What ensued was about 15 minutes of discussion and debate over the Door Question, proving once again the maxim that a true politician can get worked up over almost anything.
Moody reported the various aspects of the Locked vs. Unlocked Door dilemma, saying that after due consultation with Capitol police officers it had been determined that security required the doors be locked "to avoid unauthorized persons from entering the building."
"We have young ladies working on every floor in that building," Moody said, ". . . Sometimes they are working there alone and isolated. A person could come in and steal a purse or something and run down the stairs and no one could apprehend him . . . We Hope by the next session to come up with the final answer."
Sen. Frank Nolen (D-Staunton) rose to introduce a resolution congratulating the Lexington-Rockbridge Bicentennial Commission.
Sen. William A. Truban (R-Shenandoah) rose to show the senators some spiked devices that he said were being thrown in the roads in coal country to burst the tires of non-union coal trucks operating during the miners' strike.
Then Sen. F. Wiley Mitchell (R-Alexandria) rose in obvious dishumor. "I want the Senate to know I find the situation in the General Assembly building absolutey unacceptable," he said. "The elevators don't work . . . I'm too busy to spend 15 minutes every time I want to go from the first floor to the third floor or the third floor to the sixth floor . . . I'm perfectly capable of walking up and down staircases."
He noted that as far as safety was concerned, a crook could just as easily come up in an elevator as walk up the stairs. Then came the most shocking revelation of the day, one that prompted serious frowns and whispered comments around the room.
"I have a small roll of steel tape and have taped the lock on the door on about four occasions," Mitchell announced. "I will continue to do so until I am convinced that it is either against the law or harmful to public safety."