The growing paranoia of Virginia's Democratic legislators was on display the other day in Senate Room B, where a Senate committee summarily dispatched a seemingly harmless bill that would have allowed state ballots to carry all candidate's party affiliation.
Virginia is the only state that prohibits such identification on state or local ballots. The ban is a throwback to an era when the late Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. and his Democratic machine so dominated Virignia politics that everyone knew what party -- the Democratic -- the candidates belonged to. t
Three years ago, Richard Hobson, who then was a Democratic delegate from Alexandria, sponsored a bill to put the party labels on the ballot. That year the measure breezed through the Democrat-controlled legislature, despite strong Republican opposition, only to be vetoed by Republican Gov. John N. Dalton. Republicans feared that since most Virginia voters identifed themselves as Democrats, party designations would only help the Democrats.
But this time around, following Ronald Reagan's landslide and Republican victories in nine of Virginia's 10 congressional districts, many GOP legislators were more than happy to support a bill that would let voters know they belong to the same party as such popular Virginia vote-getters as Reagan, Dalton and U.S. Sen. John W. Warner. But a lot of Democrats had second thoughts.
"There's a good deal of insecutity," says a bemused Del. Elsie Heinz, an Arlington Democrat who sponsored the bill this year. "Nobody admitted to me that they were worried about their own survival. Instead people would say, 'I don't think it would hurt me but my friend so-and-so would be in real trouble.'"
The bill cost House Democrats so much lost sleep that they held a special closed caucus on it, and after much debate, decided to amend the bill to make it effective Jan. 1, 1983. The amended bill passed the House by the unimpressive margin of 56 to 39. That seven of Northern Virginia's nine Republican delegates voted for it is one indication of the recent change in GOP attitudes.
But the bill wasn't able to make it through the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee. That committee is chaired by Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews of Hampton, who takes great pride in protecting fellow Democrats from what he deems to be their occasional indiscretions.
Even before the bill passed the House, Andrews reassured colleagues that it would never survive the Senate because it would "kill the party," and he sealed its fate when it came to his committee.
A master of legislative fine-tuning -- some would say nitpicking -- Andrews seized upon the 1983 effective date as a rationale for killing the bill. After all, he noted, the House stands for reelection this fall and the new delegates should be given an opportunity to pass on a bill that could affect their political futures.
"In the spirit of bicameral cooperation," Andrews intoned to smirks and guffaws of fellow committee members, "it would be presumptuous of us to pass legislation at this time when a new House will be elected."
The committee piously agreed, killing the bill by 13 to 2, with only Fairfax Democrats Clive DuVal and Joseph Gartlan voting for the measure. f
Having made short work of that bill, the committee went on to kill two other measures that would have made it easier to register and vote. One bill, defeated 8 to 7, would have allowed local registrars to visit hospitals, nursing homes and private homes to help register the elderly, infirm and disabled. Another, which would have allowed more persons to fire by mail for absentee ballots, was killed by an 11-to-4 vote.