The swearing in of a new Virginia General Assembly is traditionally a slow-moving ceremony involving a golden mace, honorary processionals and a self-satisfied formality deemed fitting for the oldest continuous legislative body in the Western World.
But today things didn't go as planned. A 90-minute filibuster and constitutional confusion delayed the start of the 1982 session. Then a few legislative threats tossed between the House and Senate left some of the honorable gentlemen and gentlewomen--as the lawmakers call themselves--cross.
By the time they stood to take their oaths beneath crystal chandeliers, wine-red drapes and enough oil paintings to crowd a fair-sized museum, many were already weary.
"Normally, you start every session so fresh with everything still to do," said Del. Mary Marshall (D-Arlington), a 14-year veteran of the House. "This year . . . it just doesn't have that feeling."
A battle over a House of Delegates redistricting plan caused the trouble today. In an unprecedented situation, the 1981 Assembly was still in session this morning, desperately trying to finish a redistricting task it started 10 months, 13 special sessions and four failed plans ago.
"The legislative process appears to have broken down more miserably in the last few days than at any time since I've been here," said Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond) during a morning Senate session called to approve the latest House redistricting plan. That plan had been approved by the House hours earlier.
The 40 state senators refused to await the House's action and walked out of the Capitol last night in a fit of pique aimed at their colleagues in the 100-member chamber. The senators planned to return this morning and approve the plan after what most expected to be a short debate.
That changed when Sen. Frank Nolen (D-Augusta) took the floor. "The redistricting plan really does butcher up the Shenandoah Valley," said Nolen, a farmer. "I just want the folks back home to know I'm doing something for them." With that Nolen began reading from a thick text about redistricting and didn't stop for 80 minutes.
While Nolen continued his monologue in the Senate, freshman delegates arrived for their inaugurations. They stood in the back of the House chamber waiting for the old session to end to take their seats from delegates they had defeated.
"It's not like an abstract changing of the guard. As I pick up my briefcase and walk out, the new people are going to be walking in," said David Speck, a Republican from Alexandria who lost his seat after one two-year term. "It's an emotionally wrenching time for me."
Waiting in the rear of the chamber to replace him, Democrat Marian Van Landingham had demonstrated an early skill in political maneuvering. She managed to get a dozen friends and family members coveted back row seats on the House floor for Gov. John N. Dalton's final address to the assembly.
Van Landingham was left standing for the moment. "I know I'm going to get the seat eventually," she said with a laugh.
In a marbled hallway outside the Senate chamber, House Majority Leader Thomas Moss (D-Norfolk), who had championed the latest House redistricting plan through a tortuous political course, was fuming over Nolen's filibuster.
"He has effectively declared war on the bicameral legislature," said Moss. "If he wants to play that game we are well schooled in it on our side."
Nolen gave up his delaying tactic at noon and the Senate quickly passed the redistricting bill. It was sent to Dalton for his expected approval. The bill includes two options, one that would allow Moss and four fellow Democrats from Norfolk to run for election there on an at-large basis. That was the option that Moss had fought for and one that was resisted by black and civil rights groups who argued it would dilute black voter strength in the city, Virginia's largest.
The bill's other option calls for the Norfolk delegates and all other members of the House to run in 100 separate districts. If Moss's preferred plan is rejected by either the Justice Department, which must approve the redistricting plan under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, or the federal courts the 100-district plan becomes effective.
Before the 140 members of the 1981 Assembly could consider their work finished, they had to await a final message from Dalton, who leaves office at noon Saturday. The Republican governor offered them a lefthanded compliment on the redistricting struggle.
"Perhaps not since Jacob wrestled all night with the Angel in Genesis has there been a more demanding test of human endurance," read Dalton's message. "I congratulate you on your persistence and your stamina."