The clock was ticking to adjournment and the Virginia Senate was growing restless, testy even. The senators were toying with minor bills, waiting for the big issues of the 1982 session of the General Assembly to erupt on the floor.
Suddenly, the debate turned to a conflict-of-interest measure and all over the chamber, legislators were popping out of their chairs like drops of oil on a hot skillet.
Up jumped Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond) to imply that the senior senator from Fairfax had no business casting judgments on the conflicts of others and that the junior senator from Roanoke was guilty of making "reckless statements."
At that, Republican Ray Garland, the junior senator from Roanoke, candidate for Congress, Anglophile, orator and dandy, grabbed for the microphone. After belittling efforts by people trying "to reform human nature," he concluded with a thundering alliteration, accusing the "pusillanimous purveyors of political piffle" of debasing the dignity of the Virginia Senate.
By then, it was becoming clear that the senators had had enough--of the session, of the debates, of the issues and even of each other. Democrat Adelard L. (Abe) Brault, the 72-year-old senior senator from Fairfax, did an imitation of Wilder's blistering rhetoric. Colleagues rolled their eyes as Sen. William Fears (D-Accomac) launched into well-worn yarns about standing in his underwear as he answered a reporter's questions over the phone.
Even Sen. Clive DuVal II (D-Fairfax), one of the Senate's gentler souls, admitted, upon being pressed, that the "friendly question" he was about to ask was really not very friendly at all.
The 60 days were almost over and the legislators were ready to go home. Many had already carted out their files and packed their cars in the earnest--if somewhat unrealistic--hope that it would all be over by a reasonable hour.
While the orations were dragging on in the Senate, the real work was being done elsewhere. For the last two days, two major conference committees, seeking to solve key budget and tax questions, wandered through the Capitol, looking for a quiet nook to hold their meetings out of earshot of press or lobbyists.
Rumors of the progress of the two committees floated about the corridors: The conferees were reaching an agreement; they were still far apart; they'd be done by 7 p.m.; no, it would be more like midnight; naw, they'd never be done at all.
The best information available by early afternoon was that the budget conference committee was still conferring, which was deduced from the empty chairs left by the three Senate members. Meanwhile, members of the gas tax conference committee were still awaiting word on when and where they were to get back to work.
Over in the House, conference reports submitted by the other 25 conference committees were filtering in, offering last-minute resolutions to ticklish problems on which the two legislative chambers had been able to agree. One committee, called to consider an education bill, agreed to disagree and then agreed not to meet, in effect dooming passage of the bill.
The last day of the legislature is a herky-jerky affair. Sessions start, stop for recesses, reconvene, recess again. But for the frantic efforts of the conference committees and legislators running around trying to track their bills, the membership has already begun to wind down, contemplating life back home without each other and without the special trappings of office.
"Here people open doors for you, wave you into parking lots, take you to parties," said Del. Ford Quillen (D-Scott). "Lobbyists hustle you and people tell you that the future of the commonwealth depends on your decisions. It's a real ego trip."
They came here this year tired after months of haggling over the redrawing of the state's political lines and complained during the session that the bills were dull and that the issues were lacking. "The whole session has been so dull and boring that there was very little opportunity for creativity by anyone," said Del. Clinton Miller (R-Shenandoah).
As the session neared the end, the legislators were more likely to admit that they were glad they came, but no less glad that it was about over.
"It's still the best show in town," said Quillen, "but showtime's over and we're going back to the real world. I think 60 days is all the showtime I can take."