Sen. Diane Snelling announced Tuesday her resignation from the Senate to take a key state environmental job.
Gov. Peter Shumlin picked former state Sen. Helen Riehle to replace Snelling.
Riehle is expected to be sworn in tomorrow. She said she will not run in November.
Snelling, the only Republican in the six-seat Chittenden County delegation, will be taking the job as chair of the Natural Resources Board, which oversees the regional commissions that rule on Act 250 development applications.
In addition to administering the Act 250 program, the Natural Resources Board issues rules and policies related to Act 250 and is in charge of enforcement of the state’s development review law. The board may also participate as a party to appeals in Act 250 cases that go to the state environmental court.
“Her deep policy knowledge of Act 250, as well as her well-deserved reputation for being thoughtful and non-partisan make her an ideal candidate for this position,” Shumlin said in announcing Snelling’s appointment.
The 64-year-old Snelling has served in the Senate since she was appointed to replace her mother, Barbara, in 2002. A resident of Hinesburg, she has been a member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
Snelling replaces Jon Groveman as chair of the Natural Resources Board. Groveman took a position earlier this year with the Vermont Natural Resources Council.
“For me, it’s the appeal of Act 250, which is a process I think has helped Vermont incredibly over the last years in terms of managing for development that maintains the landscape that we love,” Snelling said after the appointment was announced.
“It’s pretty darn exciting,” Snelling said.
Riehle, 65, chair of the South Burlington City Council, said she was not interested in seeking the seat in November and was simply a placeholder until the end of the session. She said she was too busy with her council duties and enjoying retirement to plunge into a race.
Riehle, a Republican, served in the Senate from 1992 to 2000 and in the Vermont House from 1983 to 1992, coinciding with much of Shumlin’s tenure in the House and as the leader of the Senate.
“It was an honor when Peter called me,” Riehle said, joking, “At first when he said: ‘It’s your favorite governor,’ I thought: is this (New Jersey Gov.) Chris Christie calling me?”
“I couldn’t say no, it’s really quite an honor,” she said.
Shumlin bypassed the usual selection process of asking county committees to come up with possible replacements for Snelling, instead making a direct appointment.
The governor said it was critical to fill the seat immediately, particularly given the Senate is already down to 29 members with the suspension of Sen. Norman McAllister, R-Franklin.
The announcement by Snelling, and Riehle’s decision to not seek the seat in November, will leave a rare case where two seats not held by incumbents will be up for grabs. Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, is running for lieutenant governor.
Political analyst Eric Davis called the appointment a “shrewd move” by Shumlin.
“He takes one of the few Republicans who can be considered to have a safe Senate seat out of the equation, and forces the GOP to scramble, just two months before the filing deadline, to recruit a candidate who could run a competitive race in Chittenden County in a presidential year and try to hold on to one Chittenden Senate seat for the GOP,” said Davis, a retired Middlebury College political science professor.
“This represents a distraction from Republicans’ focus on gaining more seats in the House in November, because it forces the GOP to spend more money on the most expensive Senate race in the state,” Davis said.
Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Windsor, applauded the appointment of Snelling to the Natural Resources Board and welcomed back Riehle.
“I cannot think of a better choice by the governor and I know that Diane will bring her years of experience on the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy to the board,” Campbell said.
Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz praised the selection, too.
“We’re really pleased that Diane agreed to step up. She has this long history on these kinds of issues … and really understands the importance of Act 250 in our environmental legacy and our future,” Markowitz said.
Markowitz said Groveman had “rebooted” the relationship between the board and the district commissions and had focused efforts on helping commission members be better trained.