Plan for districts emerges to howls

Associated Press
Published: 5/16/2022 10:00:23 PM
Modified: 5/16/2022 9:58:36 PM

CONCORD — House and Senate negotiators in New Hampshire approved yet another congressional map Monday with time running out to meet both legislative and judicial deadlines.

New Hampshire is one of a few states that have yet to complete the redistricting process required every 10 years to bring districts in line with population changes. Democrats hold both U.S. House seats, but Republicans hold majorities in the Legislature and thus control the redistricting process.

Lawmakers passed a plan in March that would have given the GOP an advantage in the 1st District, but Republican Gov. Chris Sununu promised to veto it. The House later passed a second plan that would clump together communities along the I-93 corridor, but the Senate rejected it, sending the matter to a committee of conference to come up with a compromise.

Under the plan approved by the committee Monday, the 1st District would cover the southeast corner of the state while the 2nd District would cover the western half of the state and the north country. Lawmakers said it would give Republicans an edge in the 1st District though not as prominently as the previous plans.

More than two dozen towns and cities would switch districts, including Manchester, the largest city and home to U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas. That would put him and Rep. Annie Kuster both in the 2nd District, though there is no requirement that members of Congress live in the districts they represent.

The only Democrat on the conference committee, Sen. Donna Soucy, of Manchester, said putting the state’s two largest cities in the same district was a disservice to rural communities. Democrats had pushed to move just one town — Hampstead — to balance the population.

“If this is truly an exercise to simply balance population, there is no need for these significant and radical changes,” she said.

The new plan also would shift Conway and about a dozen towns along the state’s eastern border from the 1st District to the 2nd. A cluster of towns near the southern border, including Hudson and Salem, would move from the 2nd District to the 1st, as would Franklin, Loudon and others in the central part of the state.

May 26 is the last day for the Legislature to act on all bills. Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court stands ready to take over should the Legislature remain at an impasse with the governor. In response to a lawsuit brought by former House Speaker Terie Norelli and others last month, the court said it will use the existing districts as a benchmark and employ a “least change” approach.

Rep. Steven Smith, R-Charlestown, objects to that approach, advocating instead for a map that reflects the present, not the 1880s.

“I think we’re supposed to try to do something that makes sense now and not hold holy a map that was done when goods were transported on rivers, horse-drawn wagons and steam trains,” he said.

Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, who developed the failed I-93 corridor plan, agreed and said “compactness” shouldn’t be a major factor in drawing maps.

“You can have a district that makes sense, or you can have a district that looks good. Doing both is virtually impossible especially given that the state’s population is in no which way evenly dispersed,” he said.

But in the end, he backed the revised map.

“The redistricting process: It is ugly. It is political. No one leaves clean. I’d actually venture to say no one leaves happy,” he said. “If we get a map where we’re all ok and nobody’s happy, we’ve probably done our job.”

Sununu is still reviewing the latest proposal, his office said. The filing period for candidates in the Sept. 13 primaries opens June 1.




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