Del. David G. Speck (R-Alexandria) would appear to have three strikes against him as a legislator.
Speck is a freshman, a Northern Virginian and -- perhaps the worst sin of all in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly -- he's a Republican.
Yet Speck, 34, says he has found his first two weeks in the legislature to be a fascinating learning experience. The first lesson: Freshmen should be seen, but seldom heard.
"There are so many subtleties," says Speck, a self-employed management consultant. "It's important to demonstrate not only an understanding of the rules, but also a willingness to play by them."
Speck has learned some of his lessons in freshman orientation sessions. There, veteran lawmakers like Del. Archibald A. Campbell (D-Wythe), chairman of the House Finance Committee, and Del. Samuel Glasscock (D-Suffolk) explain how to introduce and shepherd bills through the legislature.
Other lessons have been learned the hard way. Speck's first major bill, a proposal to stiffen penalties against criminal use of firearms, was almost immediately buried in the House Courts of Justice Committee. The committee's gruff chairman, 26-year veteran Del. George E. Allen Jr. (D-Richmond), exiled the bill to a subcommittee from which few observers expect it to reemerge.
"For this first term, I'm here more to build associations and working relationships of respect and trust than to get every bill passed," says Speck philosophically.
Speck and his colleague Del. Bernard S. Cohen, (D-Alexandria), also a freshman, have large shoes to fill. Until two years ago, the Alexandria delegation included former House Majority Leader James M. Thomson, one of the Assembly's most respected and feared power brokers.
Speck says he has promised his constituents to stay in the Assembly for awhile -- at least two terms -- in order to regain some of the seniority that Alexandria has lost. He hopes the personal toll of spending two months here each year will not be too great. He phones his wife and two children, aged 9 and 6, every night and so far has been able to go home for weekends.
Speck spends much of his time during the day attending meetings of the committees -- Mining and Mineral Resources and Education -- of which he is a member. Freshmen delegates, especially Republicans, seldom are excited by the committee assignments parceled out by the Democratic House Speaker. Speck professes to be pleased by both of his -- even though there are no coal mines or minerals in urban Alexandria.
"Mining is important to the state's economy," says Speck again philosophically. "And it's important for my own growth and development as a legislator not to look at everything with a Northern Virginia eye."
A native Alexandrian, Speck admits he is still rather enthralled just to be a member of the historic Assembly, which dates back to the House of Burgesses of the 17th century.
"I haven't done anything stupid yet -- which is one of my criteria for success," says Speck. "I think the worst thing would be to do something so dumb and inappropriate that people will remember you for it."