Tom Moss, who brings model car kits, toy train cabooses and an often bawdy sene of humor onto the floor of the General Assembly, could easily fit in with the Baltimore delegation to the Maryland legislature.
Bu Moss, a Norfolk Democrat, holds a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates here and probably does not fine the comparison very flattering.
For this is the Old Dominion, and most Virginia legislators say they are not too impressed with the way things are done in Annapolis. In a state whose rallying cry is ofter, "If it ain't broke, why fix it," Virginia legislators look down on what they see as the excessively progressive, graft-tinged and disorderly practices of their neighbor to the north.
"It's a zoo there... Wouldn't you say that a legislature that barks on the House floor is a zoo?" asks Del. Martin H. Perper (R-Fairfax), referring to the notorious habit of some Maryland delegates who occasionally great certain types of legislation with canine howls.
"If someone did that here, he's be removed from the floor," says Perper, who takes comfort that the nation's oldest lawmaking body "has a tradition of decorum."
Not too surprisingly, Maryland legislators resent being stereotyped that way and they fight back, saying that the Virginians have an inflated view of themselves.
"There's the spirit of Jefferson and Madison and all that, right?" complains Maryland Del. Frank B. Pesci (D-Prince George's). "Well, beware of those who protest too much. What they mean is that nobody's got caught yet."
Del. Gerard Devlin (D-Prince George's) calls Virginia "the conflict-of-interest state par excellence. Everything is run by insiders with that long tradition of gentlemen dealing with gentlemen."
Praising his Maryland's "more robust tradition" Devlin cautioned that "Virginia people should not be so quick to pat themselves on the back."
But to bring up the subject of the Maryland General Assembly, particularly over drinks in Richmond, is to invite smug, unfriendly comparisons.
Maryland lawmakers, for example, get free passes to the state's race tracks, the Virginians point out. Virginia legislators just get in free to Richmond movie theaters and college basketball games.
'We're so different we pride ourselves on it," bragged Del. Mary A. Marshall (D-Arlington).
A longtime Northern Virginia legislative aide, who asks not to be named, swears that a lobbyist in Annapolis must approach duties like "a price-fixed menu -- if you know the right person or pay the right amount, you can get it done."
Richmond, by contrast, is a place "where power cannot be concentrated on any one person. The process stops them," according to the same legislative aide.
Citing a list of criminal indictments and convictions of Maryland officials, most Virginia Democrats and Republicans agree they are superior to Maryland legislators.
"Their taxes are higher, their corruption is documented," said Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax). "They have a tradition of tolerated corruption. We don't. It's not done in Virginia, and you can't get away with it."
Maryland Senate Majority Leader Rosalie Abrams (D-Baltimore) takes strong exception to that analysis. "The image and the reality of the state are entirely different," she said, adding "99 percent of our members are very honest and hard-working."
Callahan, who visited the Maryland legislature two or three years ago, also praised his state for the orderly way it conducts business. "They seem to have the same (parliamentary) rules we do, but they don't seem to pay much attention to them," he said.
Decorum, of course, is very big in the Virginia legislature. So is politeness -- a bill is never "killed" in a House or Senate committee here, it is "passed by indefinitely."
Also, there will never be a hint of government scandal, the legislators would have you believe, because the whole Virginia assembly operates under the honor system.
Both states have scores of lobbyists who roam the halls and committee rooms to promote or fend off special interest legislation ranging from abortion to zoning.
In Virginia, however, some lobbyists have slipped onto the floor to confer with legislators during key votes in Violation of the assembly rules. And the lobbyists who fight change usually do not have to work as hard in Virginia because the state is passionately inclined to maintain the status quo, most legislators say.
Virginians first prefer to study the issues, and this year alone there were 99 resolutions calling for studies of various proposals.
"We study everything to death. Then we study it some more and then we extend the studies," admits Callahan. But he says this is the only recourse for a part-time citizen legislature.
Organizationally, the two legislatures are as different as night and day.
Virginia's 140 lawmakers meet at most 60 days out of the year while the 188 legislators in Maryland have traditional three-month sessions. The base pay for a virginia assembly member is $5,500 compared to a base pay of $16,000 in Maryland. Both groups receive additional funds for living and office help expenses, and legislators in both states complain that their assembly and committee duties involve year-round work.
Maryland assembly members serve on only one of six major committees. but Virginia legislators have multiple committee assignments and serve on two, three and even four of nearly a dozen panels.
"Where I get into a rock and a hard place," grouses Del. Robert Harris (R-Fairfax), "is when I have a major unility bill vote and a major roads bill vote at the same time, and they both impact on Northern Virginia."
Harris remembers dashing back and forth between committee rooms four times in the space of an hour "and I had both these votes within three minutes of each other."
There is also a significant problem regarding the public's access to information. Maryland publishes a daily agenda well in advance of committee meetings, listing all bills up for a hearing or a vote. Virginia committees publish the time, date and place of meetings but frequently give no clue as to what measures will be considered.
"I came a hundred miles today to testify on this bill," shouted an exasperated Virginian after being told the measure was no longer before the Counties, Cities and Towns Committee. He refused to leave the committee until he had his say on the bill, which had been sent to another panel.
It is also often difficult to fine out what is happening to legislation in Virginia and how delegates and senators are voting on key issues.
In committees, substantive amendments to bills are sometimes read alound hurriedly before a vote, whereas Maryland committees always handout copies of amendments to members, the press and any curious on-lookers. Floor amendments get shown an a projection screen in the Maryland House.
In Virginia, decisions on crucial amendments that strengthen or weaken legislation are usually decided by voice vote. Twenty members can request a recorded vote on controversial measures, but usually a recorded vote is taken only on a bill's final passage or defeat.
"It must be easy to deny access to the public of the public's business by conducting themselves that way," said Maryland's Pesci. He said the Maryland Senate always takes a recorded vote on amendments to bills, with the House doing likewise on controversial issues.
Basically, though, the Virginia legislators tend to react with indifference as to how other segislatures operate. "We don't have to ferret out what other states would do," said Del. Ray Garland (R-Roanoke) to applause recently in a floor speech. "We're the oldest state."