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Republican Sen. James Gray: 'We will draw the maps. We will ask for community input on those maps.'

Senator James Gray.
Peter Biello
Senator James Gray.

New Hampshire lawmakers are in the middle of a big once-in-a-decade job: redrawing the maps for election districts in the State House, Senate, Executive Council and U.S. Congress.

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The committee, comprised of three Republicans and two Democrats, has toured the state, gathering input from constituents on what's important to them as their elected leaders create draft maps, which are due next month.

All Things Considered host Peter Biello spoke with Republican Sen. James Gray, chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, about how the process has gone so far, and where it's headed. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Peter Biello: With respect to redistricting more broadly, when it comes to the Senate, some have argued that there is an advantage, however slight, for Republicans over the past we'll say 25-26 years. Is that on your mind as you go through this redistricting process? And is there anything that you think needs to be done to make things more fair?

Sen. James Gray: The the question is what is fair? OK? If you go back and look at the Supreme Court decisions, you get mixed signals and stuff. There are maps out there that say, Well, gee, if a district isn't competitive, then it's gerrymandered. Well, that's not really true. So what you're asking me is it OK if I redistrict based on making any particular district competitive and that's not in the definition of gerrymander, and that's where we are following state and federal law. One man, one vote. If I could divide each one of the communities up into approximately 57,000 people, that would be what the federal law requires. Maps will be developed, community input will be sought on those maps and as they point to Executive Council District Two, they say that that was done for gerrymandered purposes.

Peter Biello: Do you agree with that? Do you think Executive Council [District] Two, which stretches from the Seacoast to the Vermont border, has been gerrymandered in some way?

Sen. James Gray: I think that before I answer that, I would go back and look at the percentages, plus and minus, to see if it meets one man, one vote. Does it look a little different? Yeah. Is it a community of interest? I don't know. I haven't looked at that. So, you know, just taking and looking at something doesn't mean that there was. And if you look up the definition for "gerrymander," it's you had the intent of advantaging or disadvantaging a political party. Could be that way and not meet the definition of "gerrymander."

Peter Biello: Would this process have been better served, in your view, if it weren't in the hands of people who are actually running for office? In other words, should non-politicians have been running the redistricting process to ensure that it's fair and to perhaps instill confidence among voters?

Sen. James Gray: Would a redistricting committee be able to do it better? I don't think that they would be able to do it better. Some people may prefer it that way, but the people who understand the law better, whether it's a committee of other citizens or a committee of legislators, they need to study the issues. They need to listen to the public and they need to draw a map.

Peter Biello: So, as you go forward with this process, are you in some ways trying to address the concerns that folks have, whether or not you agree with them? Is there anything you'd like them to know about your thinking with respect to accusations of gerrymandering in the Executive Council or a Republican advantage in it?

Sen. James Gray: I'm not trying to vilify or justify anything that was done in the past. We will draw the maps. We will ask for community input on those maps and then the Senate will take them up.

Peter Biello: Sen. Gray, thank you so much for speaking with me.

Sen. James Gray: Bye.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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