Gov. Charles S Robb's speech was preceded by the kind of hoopla reserved for opening night on Broadway, and Reba McClanan was impressed.
"I've never seen anything like this, and my husband's been here since 1971," said McClanan, the wife of Virginia Beach Democratic Del. Glenn McClanan, as she craned her neck to peer at Virginia First Lady Lynda Bird Robb and the state cabinet members, who filed in to applause and took seats below McClanan's gallery perch. "I certainly wouldn't miss this."
That view was shared by many who packed the House of Delegates chamber for Robb's speech. Among them was one of the state's newest and most bleary-eyed legislators, Del. W. Henry Maxwell (D-Newport News), a Baptist minister. He had driven to opening-day ceremonies from his election night victory party.
"I was too excited to eat and I didn't have time to sleep because I was busy packing and making phone calls," said Maxwell, who sat in the back of the room while other legislators crammed behind desks in the ornate chamber ringed with television cameras. He and two other legislators, who won special elections Tuesday, will be sworn in Thursday.
The swearing-in ceremony for the rest of the 140 lawmakers earlier in the day was marked by informality and was occasionally drowned out, as legislators milled around, sipping coffee from plastic foam cups and greeting their colleagues.
That was in sharp contrast to the excitement and anticipation that preceded Robb's speech. The members of the Assembly punctuated the speech with occasional applause.
Some veteran legislators were less than enthusiastic about a 46-day election-year session that will be dominated by fierce wrangling over the state budget, construction of a coal slurry pipeline and uranium mining.
"This reminds me of the movies," said House Minority Leader Vincent F. Callahan (R-Fairfax), a member of the legislature since 1968. "Every year the budget is the big thing, sort of like 'Gone With The Wind.' Then every year there are the big hits, the 'E.T.'s like coal slurry and uranium."
Freshman Fairfax Republican Stephen E. Gordy, a retired Army colonel, got his first lesson in legislative etiquette from Del. Frank D. Hargrove (R-Hanover) moments before the hour-long session began. At Hargrove's request, Gordy agreed to consolidate a bill to raise the drinking age to 21 with one sponsored by Del. Warren E. Barry (R-Fairfax).
"Warren's been doing this since 1976 so we should let him sponsor it this year," Hargrove said.
Robert Scott, a Newport News Democrat who is the second black member of the Senate, was the first to arrive on the Senate floor, moments after his name was placed on the electronic board that tallies votes.