Plainfield and Cornish could be split apart in NH House map

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2021 9:22:32 PM
Modified: 11/8/2021 9:22:36 PM

PLAINFIELD — Sullivan County Democrats are protesting a proposal before a redistricting committee that would split apart Cornish and Plainfield in the New Hampshire House, putting them in separate districts with more Republican-leaning towns.

But a top House Republican from Charlestown said Monday that the Sullivan County plan is simply trying to adjust for growth in Grantham while also keeping Claremont’s four districts intact.

Instead of a two-member district that includes Plainfield, Cornish, Grantham and Springfield, the plan favored by Republicans would put Plainfield in a single-seat district with Croydon and Springfield and Cornish in a two-seat district with Newport and Goshen.

Plainfield and Cornish would remain linked in a separate floterial district that would also include Springfield and Republican-leaning Newport, Croydon and Goshen.

State Rep. Lee Oxenham, D-Plainfield, said she thinks gerrymandering is driving a GOP bid to split the two towns apart in their main district.

“I would say that is my main concern. Plainfield and Cornish are just so intertwined as to be inseparable, and to have someone represent the one and not the other is unimaginable to me,” Oxenham said. “I think the only possible reason why you would seek to separate them is for partisan advantage.”

But state Rep. Steven Smith, a Charlestown Republican who serves as vice chairman of the House Special Committee on Redistricting, said there was no gerrymandering at play and that Grantham has had “huge” population growth and with 3,404 residents is very close to the ideal level of 3,444 residents per district, and therefore is being allocated its own seat in the GOP plan.

He said the goal of the Republican map was to give Grantham and Sunapee their own districts, “try not to disrupt the bottom third of the county if you can,” and keep Claremont with its four seats. “And then what’s the remainder? You put it together so we are close to the deviations that we are supposed to follow,” Smith said.

Democrats argue that the focus on math alone ignores the longstanding ties between the two towns. Cornish and Plainf ield share a school superintendent, both rely on the Cornish Rescue Squad, participate together in the Cornish Fair and Plainfield 4th of July parade, and share other bonds, including a food pantry.

“I can’t think of any shared activities between Newport, Goshen and Cornish,” former Sullivan County Democratic Chair Judith Kaufman, a Cornish resident, said in testimony submitted for a hearing to be held on Tuesday. She noted that most Cornish residents shop in Lebanon, Claremont or Windsor, not Newport.

Democrats also noted that Cornish and Newport share only a small contiguous point that is land owned by the private Corbin Park hunting preserve, but no direct road. (Smith, for his part, said that an alternative Democratic plan includes a similarly shaped point that would link Claremont and Croydon in a shared district).

The GOP plan could help two possible Republican candidates from Plainfield, Margaret Drye and her daughter Virginia, who have run for the House in the past. Though they are in the process of helping to launch a Plainfield-Cornish Republican Committee, they also both sounded open to the GOP plan that would split up the main district the two towns currently share.

“They both have a close and healthy enough local relationship,” Margaret Drye said. “It’s not going to affect the relationship between Plainfield and Cornish if we don’t share one rep out of two (districts).” She also noted that 20 years ago, the two towns were in separate state Senate districts.

And Virginia Drye discounted claims of partisan politics, saying the seats would be there for a decade, not just the next election. “It’s more than immediate results. It’s a long-term thought process,” she said.

Smith, the Charlestown lawmaker who is also the deputy speaker of the New Hampshire House, said that House maps are still being considered and that the redistricting committee, which has 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats, wouldn’t vote for a version to send to the full House until after the pending hearings this week. He said Sullivan County was “very challenging” because the two population centers, Claremont, with 12,949 residents, and Newport, with 6,299, are right next to each other in the middle of the county.

“If I could put the county together any way I wanted, it would not look like this,” Smith said of the prospective House districts. “But you have to get the numbers right.”

John Gregg can be reached at 603-727-3217 or jgregg@vnews.com.




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