Fourteen years in the Virginia General Assembly and Del. Warren E. Barry believed he was entitled to a little respect. Instead, the once amiable Springfield businessman has become perhaps the state's most persecuted Republican, Richmond's answer to comic Rodney Dangerfield.
First, the Democrats steal his bill to raise the state's beer-drinking age. Next, of all things, they swipe his resolution honoring the Washington Redskins.
One night last week, Barry entered a disco dance tournament for legislators at the toney Tobacco Company and, within a matter of minutes, the judges discreetly asked him to leave the floor as couples were eliminated.
"It's been a terrible session," says Barry, sulking alone in his office, the whiz and whir of legislation passing him by. "Being a member of a minority party for 14 years down here and you get to expect a lot of this stuff."
But this year has been the worst, says Barry, particularly painful because he began the session by announcing he wouldn't seek reelection this fall. Instead of being toasted as a great statesman of our time, as retiring Sen. Adelard (Abe) L. Brault (D-Fairfax) has been, Barry feels shafted. "I got gobbled up," he complains.
Barry's travails are, in one sense, a sad metaphor for what frequently happens to Republicans in the state's Democratic-dominated legislature, especially now that Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb has taken up residence in the Executive Mansion.
Despite steady, if snail-like, GOP gains in the 100-member House (they have grown from five members to 34 in the past two decades) Democrats still control the ebb and flow of legislation with partisan relish, stacking key committees as they please and otherwise treating minority party members like untouchables.
"There's more subtle partisanship," says House Minority Leader Del. Vincent F. Callahan (R-Fairfax.) "They're quietly turning the knife rather than doing it as blatantly as before . . . What happened to Warren is a classic example. They really stuck it to him."
Barry's ordeal began with his beer-drinking-age bill--a hot issue in this election year. Barry had been introducing bills to raise the drinking age to 21 since 1976. "It has been my crusade for years," says Barry.
Suddenly this winter, everybody wanted to raise the drinking age. Citizens groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in Northern Virginia bombarded the capitol with letters and telephone calls. Robb came out for it in his "State of the Commonwealth" address.
So does Barry get credit? No way.
Barry filed his bill as usual before the session began and then, on opening day in the House cloakroom, he approached his General Laws Committee chairman, Del. Alan A. Diamonstein (D-Newport News), who also happens to be chairman of the state Democratic party.
"I told him I would appreciate it, since I had carried the ball for 98 yards, if they'd let me carry it in for the touchdown," recalls Barry.
Memories differ on what happened next. Barry says Diamonstein smiled and "in effect told me that wasn't going to happen." Diamonstein thinks he just laughed.
At any rate, Barry's House Bill No. 13 got redrafted--"almost verbatim," he says--and reintroduced as the administration's House Bill 300 under the name of Del. Mary Sue Terry (D-Patrick), a politically ambitious lawmaker from Southside with close ties to House Speaker A.L. Philpott (D-Henry). "They told me, if I was a good boy, they'd give me five minutes to speak at the hearing," says Barry.
The Robb-Terry bill sailed through the House only to run into a logjam in Senate committee. On Friday, Terry, Robb and skeptical senators struck a compromise to raise the age to 19.
Barry says he thinks Robb and the Democrats embarrassed themselves, jumping on what they felt was a popular bandwagon without doing the necessary homework in the Senate.
For his part, Diamonstein grimaces, clearly wishing Barry would bear his pain in silence. "If Warren Barry had been prepared in the past, maybe this legislation would have gotten passed years ago," he says. "If the Democrats wanted to make it difficult for the Republicans, they could do it every day on every single bill."
Diamonstein says the Democrats don't play ball that way. But, Barry asks, what about the Redskins? "I have this resolution for the Redskins which I introduced the week before they beat Dallas," he says. "Then I had it amended after they beat Dallas.
"The next thing I know I go onto the floor on the Tuesday after the Super Bowl and, lo and behold, David Brickley a Democratic delegate from Prince William County comes up to me and says, 'They stole your resolution.' . . . That was the ultimate."
After looking into the matter, Barry said he discovered that Robb had sent down word that he needed a proclamation to take to the Redskins parade in Washington the next day and such official state documents require approval from both houses of the legislature. So the Democratic leaders, looking for a sponsor, gave it to Del. Dorothy McDiarmid, a frail, soft-spoken legislator from Vienna. "Dorothy McDiarmid," huffs Barry, "that great sports fan from Fairfax County."
Such are the indignities of life in Richmond as a Republican legislator. When Barry goes to committee meetings, he still must sit at the end of the table while Democrats, no matter how junior, sit closer to the middle "where the lights and cameras are . . . It's a small thing but it's the kind of thing that eats away at you."
In the mid-1970's, Barry even toyed with the idea of becoming a Democrat under a plan, floated by a few Northern Virginia senators, that would have given him a committee chairmanship. But the plan was nixed, Barry says, when members of the House Democratic Caucus indicated they wouldn't accept him.
When the session began this year, Barry decided he'd had enough of legislative life and announced his candidacy for Fairfax County Circuit Court Clerk, thinking incumbent Democrat James E. Hoofnagle, 71, might forgo a second eight-year term and retire.
On Friday, Hoofnagle announced for reelection.