Political twilight time cloaked the capital today. Northern Virginians were there until the end.
State Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D), retiring from the fray after 28 years of driving the ghastly 100-mile commute on Interstate 95, said he won't miss the hearings--like the one today--that left him neck-deep in arcane health policy. But his colleague, Republican Jane H. Woods, who has been making the same drive for more than a decade, for many of the same issues, already is suffering withdrawal pangs.
Across the hall was Del. Gladys B. Keating (D), of Springfield, toiling patiently on the spellbinding legal topic of eminent domain, and over there was the lawmaker everyone calls Stanley, as in state Sen. Stanley C. Walker (D-Norfolk), who like Keating was dumped from office two weeks ago after serving in the legislature through all of the 1980s and '90s.
Gartlan retired, succeeded Nov. 2 by a fellow Democrat. Woods, a loser by a scant 37 votes, was replaced by a former delegate from across the partisan aisle. Keating was toppled by a Republican challenging her for the third straight time. And then there's Stanley, another victim of historic elections that rejected the General Assembly's longtime Democratic majority.
Industry lobbyists plying the dusty halls around Capitol Square were muttering loudly about those lost veterans, wondering about possible new committee chairmen.
State Sen. Warren E. Barry (R-Fairfax) to run Education and Health?
Probably, Barry said today.
Colleagues were mourning the departure of old pros who took the time, year in and year out, to master issues such as hospital insurance for children and the government's provision of mental health care. Woods and Gartlan, both attending some of their last hearings here, stood out.
"We're going to miss voices like that," said Donald L. Harris, of Falls Church, whose Inova Health System operates four facilities in the Washington suburbs. "They were voices for programs for those who are marginalized."
"They brought a passion," Harris said. "They had the patience to stick with it."
"They had the passion and took the time," said Judith S. Castleman, who works on cancer care, nursing and other issues in the health arena. "Their approach was: How can we give here to get this?"
Gartlan, 74, of Fairfax County, said Virginia voters always come up with new advocates for those who need them. "This process has its own way of filling vacuums," he said. "We're all replaceable."
Woods, 53, who once served in the House of Delegates with Leslie L. Byrne, who defeated her, said there was something "a little addictive" about the legislative life--not holding the office itself, she hastened to add, but helping families on issues she cared about as chairman of the Senate's Education and Health Committee, as well as the special joint commission on care she was running today.
"I'm fine," she told Sen. Martin E. Williams (R-Newport News), who walked up to kiss and hug her during a break.
"Well, I'm not," Williams said.
State Sen. Madison E. Marye (D), a gentleman farmer and committee chairman from Southwest Virginia, shook her hand in condolence. "I am not ecstatic about your result," he told Woods.
Woods and Gartlan were moving at flank speed today, questioning Clarence H. Carter, the state's social services commissioner, about whether the Gilmore administration was dragging its feet on getting insurance to the state's neediest youngsters.
"Let me try one more time if I could," an exasperated Woods needled Carter, before Gartlan chided him for mounting "essentially a public relations job" in his state agency.
"I'll quickly provide it for you," Carter told Woods about the information she requested. "I'm not suggesting we've done everything there is to do," he then told Gartlan.
Lobbyists said they admired the Northern Virginians because most gave them a fair hearing. Colleagues liked them for their brains and collegiality.
"There's a real loss with Jane," said Barry, who will seek her chairmanship at a GOP meeting in Charlottesville Thursday because "in terms of weighty legislation, Education and Health has it all."
"She has tremendous expertise," Barry said of Woods. "And Joe Gartlan is an institution."
Ann Hughes, whose lobbying for a Norfolk hospital has put her in the thick of health care debates--usually on Woods's side against Carter's boss, Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R)--said Woods "is rare in that she actually sits down and studies the legislation."
Woods's involuntary retirement "is like losing a chunk of your brain," Hughes said.