House speaker strives for diversity


By Ross Sneyd
The Associated Press

MONTPELIER — A diverse group of people will lead committees in the state House during the next two years, including five women, two gay men and a black man.

Speaker Gaye Symington said she was striving in making the committee assignments last week to achieve regional, gender, political and ideological balance across the 14 panels where the heart of the legislative work gets done.

“You will see, I believe, there are no committees which you could call dumping grounds,” Symington said as she announced the eagerly anticipated lists.

Heading the powerful Appropriations Committee will be Democrat Martha Heath, D-Westford. Former House Speaker Michael Obuchowski, D-Bellows Falls, will be chairman of the nearly as powerful Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax policy.

There will be no changes in the leadership of the Senate's highest profile committees. Sen. Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille, will still be in charge of appropriations and Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington, will be in charge of finance.

Progressive David Zuckerman of Burlington, who operates an organic vegetable farm, was appointed chairman of the Agriculture Committee. He is the first member of the Progressive Party to head a committee.

The other women who will lead committees, all Democrats, are Kathy Keenan of St. Albans, who will be in charge of Commerce; Donna Sweaney of Windsor, Government Operations; Ann Pugh of South Burlington, Human Services; Alice Emmons of Springfield, Institutions. The two gay men who will be chairmen are William Lippert of Hinesburg, Judiciary; and Robert Dostis of Waterbury, Natural Resources and Energy.

Rep. Francis Brooks, D-Montpelier, who is black, will be chairman of the General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee.