Expectantly, almost like a schoolboy reaching for a report card, Del. Lewis P. Fickett Jr. (D-Fredericksburg), scanned the pages of a Virginia newspaper recently to see where he rated as compared to his 139 colleagues in the General Assembly.
His attention focused on a legislative survey that purported to tell the world, or at least Virginians, who were the best -- and the worst -- legislators in Richmond. When Fickett found his name -- 92nd in the 100-member House of Delegates -- his shoulders sagged in surprised dismay. It was as if a conscientious schoolboy had just been told he had flunked.
But Fickett wasn't alone in his disappointment. The survey results were just as disheartening for many Northern Virginia legislators, except for a few House and Senate veterans, who found themselves in the bottom half of the class. The results left some lawmakers questioning the validity of such sweeping judgements of their abilities, and their complaints were more than sour grapes.
The Norfolk Virginia-Pilot compiled the rankings based on confidential questionnaires the newspaper sent to state and local officials, lobbyists, journalists and legislators themselves. Each participant was asked to rate individual lawmakers on a scale of 1 (the lowest ranking) to 10 and to score each legislator on his or her expertise in certain fields, political power resulting from position or senority, ability in committee work, influence over other colleagues, enthusiasm and aptitude for the legislative process, and skill at guiding bills through floor debate.
As an indication of real legislative clout, the survey is useful. But it fails to give a complete picture of each lawmaker's contributions to the Assembly or to constituents.
In some ways the rankings are as flawed as the informal surveys that used to be conducted in Annapolis toselect the Maryland legislature's "sexiest" lawmakers. (Surprisingly, political power seemed to play a part in that silly contest, too, so that the plainest of men were singled out as having an allure that even Henry Kissinger would envy.)
The trouble with the Virginian-Pilot's survey is that it is a victim of the biases of its participants, reflecting the judgements of people cowed by the seniority system. Despite the survey's admonishment to consider such nitty-gritty questions as ability and committee work, the length of service still seems to outweigh the quality of service in most minds. And there is no way, when picking a number from 1 to 10, to separate the prestige of seniority from accomplishments of true leadership and ability.
Sen. Edward E.Wiley, the cranky, crusty Richmond Democrat who was ranked second in the Senate, has served in the Assembly for 29 of his 70 years. He has power, there's no denying it.
Yet his chief claim to fame is as a legislative obstacle that must be hurdled. Lobbyists and legislators fairly tremble before the Senate Finance Committee he chairs. He greets most new proposals with all the sensitivity of a Neanderthal and, if he had a slogan, it probably would be," "No Way Without Willey." But is that leadership?
Then there's Del. Theodore V. Morrison Jr. (D-Newport News). Morrison, a sharp, hard-working lawmaker of sour countenance, has a powerful mentor in the House Speaker A. L. Philpott (D-Bassett), who was ranked first in the House in effectiveness.
It took nearly 23 years and retirement of the previous speaker for Philpott to get the top post, but Morrsion nailed down the fifth spot in the survey after 13 years of service. Morrison's most recent achievement was throwing another monkey wrench into passage of a bill that would revamp the state's sexual assault laws.
Senority or connections alone didn't necessarily guarantee top honors in the survey. Given their "in-crowd" status and committee chairmen posts, delegates Hardaway Marks (D-Hopewell) and George Allen Jr. (D-Richmond) should have made the top six or seven. Marks placed a respectable 12th, hanging in there by reputation more than reality. But Allen rated an embarrassing 61st, probably because his inability to run the House Courts of Justice Committee without the presence of Philpott or Morrison has become a standing joke.
So the survey does reflect the differences between the real and the imagined powerbrokers among the Assembly. Nobody makes the top five or six without reason, and except for freshmen legislators, nobody makes the bottom five or six without reason, either.
Sitll, there were numerous lawmakers, like Fickett, who deserved better than they got, and several who lucked out despite their short-comings. This is particularly disturbing when you consider that lawmakers blessed with a good rating invariably brag about it in a campaign, while their less fortunate colleagues find that poor ratings come back to haunt them.
It's too bad -- and this reporter said as much when she passed along her own effectiveness ratings for the survey -- that some better way can't be found to quantify a legislator's contributions and failings in Richmond.
Having said that, here is the list of the top 10 lawmakers in the House and Senate and a glance at how Northern Virginia members fared.
In the Senate:
Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton) led the list of his 39 colleagues (a 40th has gone on to a federal judgeship and was not counted in the survey) followed by Willey; Frederick T. Gray (D-Chesterfield); Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax); William F. Parkerson Jr. (D-Richmond); William J. Moody (D-Portsmouth); Lawrence D. Wilder (D-Richmond); Stanley C.Walker (D-Norfolk); Elmon T. Gray (D-Waverly) and Clive L. Duval II (D-Fairfax).
Brault, a former majority leader, and Duval were the only Northern Virginia senators in the top 10, but Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax) came in 11th and Wiley F. Mitchell Jr. (R-Alexandria) placed 14th -- not bad in an Assembly dominated by Democrats. Edward M. Holland (D-Arlington) was rated 16th, and freshman Richard L. Saslaw (D-Annandale) was 29th. Charles L. Waddell (D-Loudoun) was ranked 37th out of 39, better than his last-place finish in a previous survey but not so hot when you consider that he was bumped up in the ratings by two Republican freshmen.
In the House:
The top 10 were Philpott; Richard M. Bagley (D-Hampton); Majority Leader Thomas W. Moss Jr. (D-Norfolk); William L. Lemmon (D-Marion); Morrison; state Democratic Party Chairman Owen B. Pickett (D-Virginia Beach); Gerald L. Baliles (D-richmond); L. Cleaves Manning (D-Portsmouth); J. Samuel Glassock (D-Suffolk) and Franklin M.Slayton (D-South Boston).
Dorothy S.McDiarmid (D-Fairfax), No. 20 in the survey, was the highest rated among Northern Virginia's 19-member House delegation. Except for two one-term gaps, she has served in the Assembly since 1960. Vincent F.Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax) was 25th, again a notable achievement for a Republican.Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington) jumped from 49th in the last survey to 30th this time, and Mary A. Marshall (D-Arlington) and Warren E. Barry (R-Fairfax) were ranked 40th and 41st, respectively.
The other Northern Virginians were scattered throghout the bottom half of the rankings. James H. Dillard (R-Fairfax) was 62nd; David G. Brickley (D-Prince William), 73rd; freshman John H. Rust Jr. (R-Fairfax), 76th; Elise B. Heinz (D-Arlington), 77th; freshman David G. Speck (R-Alexandria), 80th; Gladys B. Keating (D-Fairfax), 81st; freshman Bernard S. Cohen (D-Alexandria), 84th; Earl E. Bell (D-Loudoun), 85th; Martin H. Perper (R-Fairfax), 88th; Robert E. Harris (R-Fairfax), 91st; freshman John S. Buckley (R-Fairfax), 97th and freshman Lawrence D. Pratt (R-Fairfax), was dead last, at 100.