It was near midnight four weeks ago, and state Del. Floyd C. Bagley's shoulders sagged with fatigue as the House Committee on Courts of Justice called an end to a marathon meeting.
The Prince William County Democrat had waited three hours in a straight-backed chair before the committee podium, twirling his glasses and shuffling his notes. Although the committee considered a multitude of bills, it did not take up his proposal, House Bill 1572, which Bagley said would make it easier for opposing parties in lawsuits to obtain information from each other.
"Outrage!" he later angrily scrawled on a computer printout that listed his bill as "passed by indefinitely." "Too late at night," Bagley wrote. "Should have passed."
Bagley, a 62-year-old lawyer from the town of Dumfries, has seen dozens of his bills die during his nine years in the General Assembly. The experience has left him feeling weary and, according to one of his closest friends, feeling he has been passed by like some of his own bills.
By his own admission, Bagley has not built up "any real horsepower." Nor, at his age, does he expect to.
"What's my future in the House?" he asked, pondering it aloud at dinner one night. "I'm not Ronald Reagan. Maybe if I had come in when I was 43 instead of 53 . . . . "
A former Marine Corps captain and county attorney, Bagley is typical of many of Virginia's 140 legislators who toil away session after session but who never successfully sponsor major legislation or break into the clubby core that runs the legislature.
Over the years, Del. Franklin M. Slayton (D-Halifax) has seen many legislators reach the same point: no longer, as Bagley put it, willing to "sit in the corner like a freshman and behave," yet unable to move onto the center of the legislative stage.
"It's like anything else that has 100 people in it," said Slayton, who sits five seats away from Bagley in the front row of the House and serves with him on the Appropriations Committee. "You begin to get a feeling of where you stand in that group," said Slayton. "If you never get close to the center, you begin to lose interest."
The years in Richmond have not been devoid of satisfactions for Bagley, described by a colleague as "a really nice person" who "wants to do the right thing" and by others as somewhat self-absorbed and petty.
He has a reputation for conscientiously trying to represent the needs of his district in eastern Prince William County, and he has carved out a small niche of influence in the matters of veterans affairs.
Generally a quiet and rather solitary figure in the halls of the General Assembly Building, he seemed at his most animated during one committee hearing when he explained the prospects for a bill to a circle of admiring veterans. "He has done all he could to further the veterans' cause," said Edward D. Hamlett, adjutant for the state headquarters of the American Legion. "He has a very sincere and dedicated approach."
"I have all the horsepower I need to get done what I need to get done," Bagley said. If he is not been as successful as some, he said, it is a result of a system that rewards "sycophants" more than "mavericks."
"It depends on where you're from, who you are, where you're placed and who you know."
Still, the moments of prominence for Bagley do not come as often or stack up as high as the frustrations.
Not the least of the frustrations is the frenzied pace that can be as arbitrary and deadly as a midsummer tornado to good bills and bad bills alike. Bagley compared the session that ended Feb. 23 to "being on a treadmill in a squirrel cage."
Then there is the seemingly endless wait for control of even a small piece of the legislative machinery. As a Northern Virginian, Bagley chafes at the grip on the legislature maintained by Tidewater Democrats.
He also is discouraged to be far from a committee chairmanship. His best shot is on the Claims Committee, which decides if the state should pay damages to people claiming they were wronged by the state government. Bagley is the third-ranking member, and "that's not exactly what you'd call the greatest committee in the House," he said with customary wryness.
Some of Bagley's colleagues point out that it is not necessary to occupy a kingpin's spot to be effective and suggest that Bagley might be more so if he had more of a feel for the chances for a proposal, developed better legislative tactics and took himself a little less seriously.
He is widely criticized, for instance, for continuing to introduce what has become known as the "Green Sheet" bill. It grows out of what he says was a false, green-colored campaign flier an opponent used against him and would make it a crime to knowingly distribute false statements about a political opponent. The bill enraged the state's newspapers and was defeated this year for the third time.
One fellow Northern Virginia delegate berates Bagley for reading a lobbyist's letter instead of describing his bill in his own words during a House debate. "Very few people would do that," said the delegate. "He just doesn't have what it takes."
Though he is more successful than a number of legislators who rarely, if ever, win approval for a bill, Bagley received the lowest ranking of any Democrat with more than six years' seniority in a recent poll conducted by the Virginian-Pilot and Ledger-Star of Norfolk.
This year, 18 of his 23 bills were withdrawn or defeated, though Bagley said his average is good compared with others.
To his indignation, he was upstaged on a minor bill that would have allowed Prince William courts to charge $1 more for the filing of civil suits to finance the operations of a law library. Bagley "prefiled" his bill last August to give it a better chance, but the House Courts of Justice Committee instead approved a nearly identical bill sponsored by Del. Harry J. Parrish (R-Prince William).
"For some reason, Harry Parrish was called to present his bill. I was never called," Bagley complained afterwards. "And I used to be on that committee."
A measure to allow two-year terms for Prince William School Board members was "passed by for the day" on the last day for consideration by a Senate committee. "There is no other day," railed Bagley at a reception that night.
Bagley had better luck with five bills. One gives the Governor's Commission on Veterans Affairs, which Bagley chairs, the power to acquire land for a veterans home and a veterans cemetery, although it does not provide any money. He succeeded in including in the budget an additional $30,000 for the Division of Veterans Claims so employes can travel to visit sick veterans.
Besides Bagley's efforts for veterans, Del. Bernard S. Cohen (D-Alexandria) gives Bagley high marks for "brave" votes such as his vote in the recently ended session against a highly controversial bill to require parental or judicial consent for an abortion by a minor