The committee room was hot and crowded, and Virginia Del. C. Jefferson Stafford, a mountain Republican, fighting a reapportionment plan that could completely rearrange his House district, was speaking in a voice tinged with pure exasperation.
"All I want is for you get a plan that will be approved and let me know where to buy my billboards before July," said Stafford, who like most of his 99 House colleagues will be seeking reelection this fall. "I think we all need to know."
Members of the powerful House Privileges and Elections Committee laughed uproariously at Stafford's plea, but many of his colleagues -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- grimaced at his unwitting parallel to their own problems. With at least four fomral plans for reaportioning the Virginia House of Delgates on paper and countless others being sketched out in legislative cloakrooms on the second day of the General Assembly's special reapportioning session, nobody was sure exactly whose poltical ox was being gored.
"We've got to cut it some way, and somebody's gotta give. I just hope it won't be the three of us, but we don't know," said Del. Calvin G. Sanford of Westmoreland County one of three eastern Virginia Republicans who suddenly discovered they were the latest targets of a reapportionment plan. "We're all nervous. There's nobody here who isn't nervous."
An example of that tension surfaced today when Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax) attacked a redistricting plan offered by Del. Elise B. Heinz (D-Arlington-Alexandria) to create a largely inside-the-beltway congressional district. Callahan said the plan would "ghettoize" Northern Virginia.
"So that's what you're afraid of," shot back Heinz in an angry exchange that followed a public hearing at which she suggested uniting the densely populated polyglot communities of Alexandria and Arlington, along with that portion of Fairfax County inside the Capital Beltway, into the 10th Congressional District.
Heinz acknowledged that her proposal is a way of helping Democrats recapture one of the two Virginia seats they lost to Republicans last fall and she conceded that her plan has little chance of acceptance, but said, "somebody had to" raise the issue.
Callahan said Heinz's proposal was "a fundamental evolutionary change," while she characterized it as "going back to the past. That's not unique."
"You going back to the past is unique," quipped Callahan.
What many legislators say is making reapportionment of the 100-member House so difficult for them these days is what they delicately call "the Fairfax question." Thanks to its repid population gains during the 1970s, the populous Northern Virginia locality is demanding 12 delegates, two more than it now has.
Downstate legislators, eager to hang onto their own seats and bound by inclination to protect other incumbents, say privately that they would prefer to give Fairfax only 11 delegates so that they could retain flexibility in apportioning to the other 89 seats. But any such plan would have to do without the support of Northern Virginia's 19-member delegation, which has agreed to resist any plan that gives Fairfax fewer than 12 delegates.
What's more, some legislators fear the possibility of court suits by disgruntled Northern Virginians. "Fairfax is going to get 12 seats because Fairfaxs is going to sue the hell out of everyone else if they don't," said Del. Mary Marshall (D-Arlington). "It's that straight."
That leaves the majority Democrats caucusing in map-littered hearing rooms, looking for an acceptable plan that would grant Fairfax its 12 seats, meet constitutional requirements for equitable representation and not tread on too many Democratic toes. "I've talked until I'm blue in the face," said. Del. Archibald A. Campbell (D-Wythe) who is fighting a House subcommittee plan that would place him in the same district with Stafford.
After an earlier plan lifted a new "Fairfax delegate" from an area near Roanoke, legislators from the Southwest teamed up with Northern Virginians behind a plan that would instead ax a Republican by creating a two-member district for Republicans Sanford, Robert S. Bloxom (Accomack) and Harvey B . Morgan (Gloucester).
Meanwhile, Tidewater delegates are working on yet another plan that would give Fairfax only 11 delegates and eliminate the population variances of up to 27 percent between districts. House Speaker A.L. Philpott has criticized one plan that gives Fairfax 12 delegates because of the wide population variances.
Less controversial among most Democrats is a state Senate reapportion plan. Largely the product of Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews, it has had better luck than most House plans. Today it sailed through Andrew's Privileges and Elections Committee by a vote of 10 to 4. But the panel's two Republicans said they intend to oppose the bill on the Senate floor because they believe it would hurt some of their GOP colleagues.
Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell (R-Alexandria) says Republicans have already talked to Gov. John N. Dalton and hold out the possibility that Dalton will veto the plan and send back a list of recommended changes.
For the most part, however, most the efforts to resolve the reapportionment and redistricting issues by the end of the week have been so frantic that the assembly has begun to resemble a scene from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."
"I don't think they play at all fairly and they all quarrel so dreadfully and they don't seem to have any rules," Common Cause lobbyist Jane Morriss said today, quoting the Lewis Carroll classic after spending the morning in a reapportionment hearing. "At least if there are, nobody attends to them."