Nearly half of the legislature’s joint committees will have new House Democratic co-chairs in January, including five who will be in only their second term, according to assignments announced Friday by House Speaker-designate Matt Ritter, D-Hartford.
“We can’t ignore seniority, but if seniority was the only consideration, I don’t think our committees would reflect the diversity of our caucus from both a racial and gender perspective,” Ritter said.
The five freshmen who will begin their sophomore terms as co-chairs or ranking members are: Quentin Phipps of Middletown, Aging; Jason Doucette of Manchester, Banks; Maria Horn of Salisbury, Public Safety and Security; and Kerry Wood of Rocky Hill, Insurance and Real Estate. Christine Palm of Chester will be the ranking Democrat on Internship, one of the few committees in which the co-chairs are rotated between the parties and not determined by the majority.
Doucette will not be seen a new leader. He played an outsize role as vice chair of Banks after the co-chair, Ezequiel Santiago of Bridgeport, died in 2019. Rep. Rick Lopes, D-New Britain, who succeeded Santiago as co-chair, was elected to the Senate last month.
Horn and Wood will oversee committees that deal with controversial issues.
Horn, a former federal prosecutor, will be leading a committee that has cognizance over gambling expansion and play a role in any revisions to the police accountability measure passed in special session in July. Horn succeeds Rep. Joe Verrengia of West Hartford, a retired police officer who did not seek re-election.
Wood’s assignment will make her a player in any debate over a public option in health care insurance. She succeeds Rep. Sean Scanlon of Guilford, who is the new co-chair of Finance, Revenue and Bonding.
Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, who was elected in 2016, will be co-chair of the Higher Education and Employment Committee, a promotion that would have been unthinkable after he arrived at the Capitol in 2017 as a self-described progressive disruptor. He qualified for a primary challenge against J. Brendan Sharkey, then the House speaker. Sharkey ultimately did not seek re-election.
Elliott immediate surveyed his colleagues on a host of progressive issues and graded them, looking askance at more moderate Democrats. “It allows me to see who should be up here — and who should not,” Elliott said then.
Elliott said Friday he remains committed to his progressive principles, then laughed and noted it was possible to demonstrate his commitment in a more constructive manner.
“I think Josh is an example of someone who realized that to pass the things I want to pass takes allies,” Ritter said. “The caucus is pretty diverse. It’s complicated. Josh has really developed an understanding of the legislative process.”
Elliott succeeds Rep. Gregg Haddad, D-Mansfield, who resigned from the committee after taking a job with the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education. The Office of State Ethics advised him that remaining as co-chair would be a conflict of interest. Haddad’s district is home to UConn; Elliott’s is home to Quinnipiac University.
Haddad was named Thursday as an assistant deputy speaker. He also will serve on the bipartisan legislative panel that will draw up new legislative districts after the state receives its 2020 Census data, Ritter said.