In a Virginia General Assembly full of those quick to quote Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers, a lone Churchillian scholar has emerged as its preeminent orator.

Del. Ray Lucian Garland (R-Roanoke) is a legislator who chooses his words as carefully as he chooses his clothes, and when he takes the floor of the House of Delegates here, people listen. Garland has conditioned his colleagues to expect a good show, and he rarely disappoints them:

"Those fellows at the Department of Education are sweet people. I love them. But the Statue of Liberty will ride a bicycle up Broadway before the Department of Education will favor this bill."

"Poetry is an anachronism in the world today, although some still cleave to that ancient calling."

"One man's tax break is another man's tax increase."

"There's nothing wrong with doing some research and changing your mind."

Sometimes, Garland's statements espousing positions "of perfect conservatism" can drive colleagues to the dictionary.

The fear of foreign investors, he said recently, is a "xenophobia that is merely the latest in a series of phobias that have animated the denizens of bucolia."

Garland is the first to admit that his attention-getting verbiage is premeditated.

"I started out making regular speeches, really lectures, but I soon realized it has to be theater," said Garland, 44, who has been a member of the House since 1968.

"Churchill never left rhetoric to chance," said Garland, who is clearly fascinated by the late British prime minister and did his thesis on Churchill's leadership of the opposition while a student in the late 1950's at the University of London.

The British influence still shows. Garland lives in Richmond's old Raleigh Hotel during the session, he is seldom seen around the Capitol without his stylish bowler, and he speaks in clipped, sharp spurts that have become his trademark.

In Roanoke, Garland, a bachelor, lives at home with his parents and spends much of his time between legislative sessions looking after family investments. He grew up working in the family-owned drug store chain, which has since been sold.

His interest in politics, Garland said, was sparked during World War II when, as a kid, he listened to the speeches of Roosevelt and Churchill. "I was always excited by politics and world events," Garland recalled.

When he was younger, Garland said, he did some work in theatre groups. Now he enjoys having an audience in the Virginia Assembly.

When he ran against Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (I-Va.) in 1970, one press account at the time described Garland as having the "face of a cherub and the penetrating voice of a drill sergeant."

That ill-fated challenge against Byrd produced another famous Garland quote: "From reading the newspapers I know we have been having a few problems in Arlington, but we'll get over them and go on to better things," he said in a speech back then.

Today, Garland's approach has hardly mellowed, but his comments on the floor of the House are more likely to have a humorous rather than caustic edge.

"The problem with the General Assembly is that you have to keep their attention." said Garland, explaining why he tries to include a punch line in every remark. "They don't want to listen unless you're going to say something they want to hear."

Garland, who calls the Virginia House the toughest audience in the world, said he does some preparation before addressing the assembly, even if it only means jotting down some notes 15 seconds in advance.

He relies on memory a lot, Garland said, and he always tries "to strike a balance -- not be a pussy and at the same time not be a nuisance."

But Garland doesn't mind being opinionated, in public or private.

On the English: "When they ceased to be pirates and tried to be gentlemen, they ceased to count for much in this world. But the buccaneer British were thoroughly admirable."

On exclusivity, "I don't like to encourage unwarranted snobbism."

On art and government: "You can't trust the Anglo-Saxons with art, and you can't trust the Italians with government."

But perhaps his most appreciated remark was one he uttered on the House floor this session to urge his colleagues to vote on another controversial cause Garland had taken to heart.

Correctly predicting that this particular measure was doomed, Garland pushed for a decision one way or the other, then added, "Or, as the shah of Iran recently commented, 'Let the Good Times Roll.'"