While other lawmakers lingered in the Holiday Inn cocktail lounge or drifted off to bed, a half dozen made their way late last night to the mapstrewn, smoke-filled seventh-floor room presided over by Del. John Grey, a gangly Democrat from Hampton.
When they emerged at 1:30 this morning, pocket calculators in their hands, they carried yet another scheme to carve up Virginia's 100 House of Delgates seats in a manner that they believed could assure their political survival and also meet standards mandated by the Supreme Court.
That scene had been repeated the week as delegates and senators, who had come to town expecting to wrap up legislative reapportionment on Thursday, found themselves mired instead in maps, census figures and political egos. By today, when the legislature's leaders agreed to recess until Monday, it was clear that the state's 140 lawmakers were no closer to agreement they were Monday when their special session began. w
Some blamed the Assembly's leaders, including Gray, head of the House's reapportioning committee, for losing control. Others argued that too many members had too much at stake to go along with their leaders on an issue as delicate as redistricting.
"The first rule here is survival of the fittest," said Fairfax Sen. Richard L. Saslaw. "So if it's a choice of going along with the leadership or protecting my turf, my turf comes first."
In the House, Gray's committee has been presented with more than a half dozen redistricting plans and has yet to choose among them. The panel has split along regional, as well as partisan, lines. Southwest Virginia Democrats have one plan, Tidewater Democrats another and Republicans have at least two plans of their own. Meanwhile, House leaders such as Speaker A. L. Philpott and Majority Leader Thomas W. Moss have yet to come to an agreement on what to do.
"Just wait till the weekend," said Del. Warren E. Barry, a Fairfax Republican. "That's when all the power brokers are going to make their decisions and that's what they're going to ram down our throats on Monday."
While many legislators expected a certain amount of chaos in the House, the lack of consensus in the more formal state Senate has surprised many -- including some of that chamber's leaders. They concede they were stunned this week to discover that Republicans and dissident Democrats had assembled a coalition large enough to defeat the reapportionment plan pushed by Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews.
"We thought we had it under control but when I counted heads heads yesterday I found it was damn close," said Senate Democratic Caucus Chariman Clive DuVal of Fairfax. Rather than risk defeat, Senate leaders agreed to send their own plan back to Andrews' committee, which is to meet again Monday morning.
Norfolk's three Democratic senators, who presently run for at-large seats, led the dissidents, opposing a provision splitting their city into single-member districts. Andrews and other leaders argue the Senate's entire reapportionment plan faces almost certain rejection by the Justice Department and the courts if the wishes of the Norfolk senators are honored. They say an at-large Norfolk plan would help the city's three white incumbents, but would dilute the voting strength of the city's large black neighborhoods beyond standards permitted by the Voting Rights Act of 1964.
Senate leaders say privately they believe they can twist enough arms by next week to pass the Andrews plan. But Sen. Nathan Miller (r-Rockingham) disputes them. "I think the leadership doesn't have the votes," he said. "If they did, Hunter Andrews wouldn't have been up to my office twice yesterday trying to make a deal."
Along with the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, there is some longing talk among lawmakers of admitting failure and postponing reapportionment until after November's elections, a move that would allow House members to run for their old seats one more time.
But areas such as Fairfax County, which stand to gain new seats because of population growth, would be outraged by such a maneuver, which few expect to be tried.
Barring that move, most lawmakers expect to wrap up the special session sometime next week. If it drags on further, many lawmakers expect a backlash from voters.
Says Sen. Dudley Emick (D-Botetourt): "The real dilemma we're in now is that people back home are going to start asking why we're here spending their money when nothing appears to be happening."