On Day 1 of their four-star fact-finding tour of the Washington suburbs, Virginia state legislators learned that Fairfax County boasts the largest Sears store in the country, Shirley Highway rush-hour traffic is a very slow way to go, and Robert E. Lee's favorite dessert was pound cake and macaroons.
Yesterday, Day 2, Gov. John N. Dalton and 100 state lawmakers were treated to a view of a highway construction site. Today, as part of the finale of a three day, expenses-paid tour, they will sniff around a sewage treatment plant near Manassas.
Between the bus rides, slide shows and historic stops, the most influential office holders in the Old Dominion are being conscientiously plied with parties and good liquor to make certain that when the $70,000 junket is over, a warm spot will remain in their voting hearts for what one legislator called their "little old buddies" in Northern Virginia.
"I don't see how it can hurt," said Del. Bernard Cohen (R-Alexandria), one of 26 Northern Virginia legislators playing host to downstate colleagues this weekend. "As long as you keep them euphoric they've got to have a better feeling about you Monday than they did on Friday."
The success of this weekend tour, say Northern Virginia legislators, will have more effect on the local citizenry than any piece of legislation. In Richmond, the power of reason is not always as important in winning votes as friendships won in late night trenches, bellies against the bar.
And Northern Virginia has never been noted for winning friends and influencing influential people.
"The people in my district think of Northern Virginians as troublemakers," said Sen. William (Fearless) Fears (D-Accomack), who professes to be more enlightened himself. "They think all the people in Northern Virginia work for those government agencies they'd like to get rid of like the EPA and the IRS."
A stereotype that is more damaging, because it is held by so many state legislators, squeezes all of Northern Virginia into golden suburbs of great wealth. When a Fairfax County legislator asks for more money or services, representatives from rural towns such as Pound, Bassett and Rocky Mountain sometimes see it as an attempt to pick a country cousin's pocket.
"You all are wealthier up here," said Del. George Allen (D-Richmond), munching on a Northern Virginia cream puff. "You have to do something for yourself."
The strategy for the weekend tour, explained Del. Elize Heinz (D-Arlington), was to impress upon the legislators the problems of Northern Virginia without depressing them. But the first neighborhood the legislators toured after leaving their chartered ($5,000) train in Alexandria, was sparkling with $300,000 homes. That sight, and the scripts that tour guides on each of the four buses were suppposed to read, did little to create economic sympathy.
"Welcome to Fairfax County, one of the largest and most dynamically growing counties in Virginia," sang one part of a script written by Fairfax Chamber of Commerce officials. Because chamber officials in eight Northern Virginia localities organized the tour with money contributed by local businesses, they insisted on writing the scripts. Not all were happy with the results, which generally praised development and specificaly endorsed such controversial issues as condominium conversion and construction of the Springfield Bypass.
"I'm disappointed," said Fairfax Supervisor Audrey Moore, who rode one of the buses yesterday. "The whole thing is a celebration of growth."
Not all of the guides followed their instructions, however. On the bus carrying Dalton, the tour guide tossed the script aside and let the local legislators explain the view.
"You've got lots of live people here," said Sen. Adelard Brault (D-Fairfax) as the bus drove past rush-hour traffic on the way to Arlington Cemetery. "Where we're going there are lots of dead people."
When Del. David Speck (R-Alexandria) pointed out that the Friday traffic leaving Washington on Shirley Highway already was bumper-to-bumper at 4 p.m., Norfolk Del. Tom Moss, the Democratic majority leader in the House, shot back: "Most of the civil servants knock off at noon, don't they, if they go to work at all?"
At Arlington Cemetery, the legislators observed a full honors funeral for a three-star general, complete with a 15-gun salute, then stood behind Gov. Dalton, Lieutenant Gov. Charles Robb and House Leader A. L. Philpott as they placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier at a sunset ceremony. Before they left the cemetery, the group visited Arlington House, the former home of Robert E. Lee, the one Northern Virginian whose credentials are unquestioned in Richmond.Stephen Detwiler, the chairman of the Arlington County Board, met the lawmakers at the door to remind them that there was purpose in all the pomp.
"While we are happy to assist the state, we hope the state will assist us, particularly in the areas of education and Metro," said Detwiler, blocking the door while the legislators shivered in the cold night air.
Yesterday the buses took the legislators and their wives from Crystal City to Loudoun County with a dozen stops in between. Many of the legislators admitted that the previous night's elaborate reception and dinner at Crystal City had taken a toll. Heads nodded as sights were passed unseen.
Said one legislator: "I feel like a tortoise making love to a porcupine. I enjoyed it, but that's all that I can stand."