- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

Virginia Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr. yesterday adjourned the House session for the day just as he has every Feb. 12 for the past 39 years: In the memory of Abraham Lincoln.

“Mr. Speaker I move when the House adjourns today it adjourns in memory of this nation’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday was February 12, 1809,” Mr. Callahan declared to the 100-member body yesterday.

A sense of history follows the Fairfax County Republican, who is the second-longest-serving member in the House — and honoring Lincoln’s birthday reminds the 75-year-old of how long Richmond has been his home away from home. Delegate Lacey E. Putney, Bedford independent, is the longest-serving state legislator.

Mr. Callahan, who plans to seek re-election in the fall, serves as an encyclopedia for the younger members of the Republicans caucus — some of whom were either not born or too young when Mr. Callahan first honored Lincoln with the symbolic motion.

“I think I was in nursery school,” joked Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican.

The Lincoln tradition began in February 1968. Under the orders of Republican Minority Leader M. Caldwell Butler of Roanoke, Mr. Callahan told then House Speaker John Warren Cooke, a Democrat and a son of a Confederate veteran, that he would make a motion to adjourn the House the following day in honor of Lincoln.

“He said, ‘Callahan you are the new guy here,’ ” Mr. Callahan recalled yesterday. “I said, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’ ”

Mr. Callahan realized it might not agree with several colleagues — some of whom, like Mr. Cooke, had family ties to the Confederate army and might have seen Lincoln “as an anathema to Virginia.”

“The speaker seemed taken aback by this unprecedented proposal in the bosom of the Confederacy, but he did not object,” Mr. Callahan later wrote in “Notes From the Sausage Factory,” a compilation of articles about the Virginia General Assembly. “So began another tradition.”

A lot has changed in Virginia since Mr. Callahan was elected to the state House in 1967.

The population in Northern Virginia has exploded, lawmakers now receive e-mails instead of handwritten or typewritten letters, and Republicans now control state government.

When Mr. Callahan took office in 1968, Democrats ran the state Capitol “with a heavy hand,” he said. Republicans were assigned to committees that never met and if Democrats liked a Republican proposal, they would merely kill it and replace it with an identical proposal of their own.

“We didn’t have a lot to do those days,” Mr. Callahan said, adding that he was one of 14 Republicans up against 86 Democrats in the House of Delegates.

Nights often were spent with fellow Republicans and a few Democrats knocking back cocktails at the Raleigh Hotel, which has since been renovated into Commonwealth Park Suites Hotel.

The Raleigh was “a landmark and a dump” with an “excellent bar,” and a sporadic supply of hot water in the bathrooms, Mr. Callahan said. The “ratty” hotel also doubled as legislative offices for lawmakers.

“Every evening the hotel was jammed with people and you got a lot of stuff done away from the Capitol,” Mr. Callahan said. “I miss the camaraderie that we used to have. Not only was it a more pleasant way to operate, but you got more business done.”

Smoking was allowed inside the House chamber. “Everybody had pipes, chewing tobacco, cigarettes,” Mr. Callahan said. “It was a pall of smoke.”

In 1972, Mr. Callahan was appointed to the House Finance Committee, which hashed out the budget in closed-door meetings in a windowless room on the fourth floor of the Capitol.

“The appropriations committee was the inner sanctum of this place,” he said. “The only people allowed in there were members of the appropriations committee.

Other members of the legislature could not go into the room … because there was a cop at the door.”

The social climate also was much different. A barber shop at the now defunct Hotel Richmond, where powerful Democrats stayed, refused to serve blacks.

Mr. Callahan said he once boycotted a reception when business leaders in Richmond disinvited Dr. W. Ferguson Reid, the first elected black House delegate since Reconstruction, from a reception when they learned that he was black.

“That thing really struck me,” he said. “You were living in a different era then.”

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