Two New Natural Resources Chairmen Forget Differences, Decide To Cooperate

Front Page / Jan. 11, 2001 12:00am EST

Two New Natural Resources Chairmen Forget Differences, Decide To Cooperate

The chairmen of the important Natural Resources Committee in the Vermont House of Representatives and Vermont Senate live about 12 miles apart in the White River Valley.

Both of them are committee chairs for the first time.

Politically and personally, however, Rep. Philip Angell of Randolph and Sen. Dick McCormack of Bethel aren’t close at all. They could hardly be more different.

Angell’s a relatively conservative Republican who campaigned hard for the GOP this year. McCormack’s a liberal Democrat who was Democratic leader in the Senate last year. Angell is sparing of words and is hardly ever in the press. McCormack’s a born talker and arguer, always available for a press comment.

For now, though, the differences are on hold. For the first time in memory, or perhaps ever, the two chairmen are holding joint meetings of their committees.

Republicans and Democrats together. Representatives and Senators together. What a concept!

The idea for the joint meetings, early in the legislative year, came from Sen. McCormack. Both he and Rep. Angell have served on the Natural Resources Committees in their respective houses for several years, and McCormack thought it would be good to get their committees together to see what would be on the agenda.

He approached Rep. Angell with the idea in December. Neither one was a committee chair at the time, of course, but both had put in their names and thought they had a good shot at it.

This week the committee assignments came through, and Angell accepted McCormack’s offer to bring their committees together.

"I’m very thankful to Dick," he said this week. "I think there’s some chance of success here."

The groups will start with issues where there’s broad agreement. Rep. Angell mentioned a tire disposal initiative and junkyard management as likely bills.

The biggest task before the two Natural Resources committees, however, won’t be so easy to solve by cooperation. The House is considered likely to pass several changes, possibly substantial, in the workings of Act 250, the development control law. Angell is a strong supporter of change, and he said this week he has bi-partisan support on the House committee.

McCormack, however, is on record as criticizing previous Republican efforts to change Act 250, saying that the changes would "gut" the law.

"Act 250 will be the toughest nut to crack," Rep. Angell confirmed this week.

But at least the session is off to an interesting cooperative start. Last year’s Natural Resources chairs never talked to each other at all, Angell claimed. This year should be an improvement, he said.

"A lot of issues don’t have a right or left to them. We want to keep the lines of communications open."

Leadership Positions

Representatives and Senators from the White River Valley picked up several leadership positions in the Legislature when committees were assigned this year.

Sen. Cheryl Rivers will repeat as one of the most powerful legislators in Montpelier, as she will chair the tax-writing Finance Committee.

Besides writing taxes, her committee will be in charge of changes to Act 60’s educational funding system, which may be this year’s most controversial topic. Big changes are expected to be proposed in the House of Representatives, and liberals are counting on Sen. Rivers to uphold the equity provisions of Act 60 once it gets to her Senate committee.

Rivers told her constituents that she has already arranged an Act 60 "briefing" that was attended by half the senators and all but one of the new Senators.

She’s also on the Transportation and Agriculture committees, as she was last year. She invited constituents to e-mail her at crivers@leg.state.vt.us.

Sen. Dick McCormack will be chair of Natural Resources (see other story) and member of Education, while freshman Sen. John Campbell will be on Judiciary and Health & Welfare.

Freshman Orange Co. Senator William Corrow won his first choice, the Education Committee, where he said he will advocate for school quality under Act 60, more school choice, and charter schools. He’s also assigned to General Affairs & Housing.

In the House of Reps.

In the House, Speaker Walter Freed made the following committee assignments:

Rep. Philip Angell, Randolph: Chairman, Natural Resources.

Rep. Stephen Webster, Randolph: Ways & Means.

Rep. Philip Winters, Williamstown: vice-chair, Agriculture.

Rep. Sylvia Kennedy, Chelsea: Judiciary.

Rep. Carroll Ketchum, Bethel: Commerce.

Rep. Bill Mackinnon, Sharon: Transportation.

Rep. Ann Seibert, Norwich: Institutions.

Rep. Michael Reese, Pomfret: Natural Resources.

By M. D. Drysdale

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