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Compromise still unclear on N.H.'s congressional redistricting process

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Gov. Chris Sununu again promised to veto the congressional maps approved by Republican majorities in the House and Senate, calling them “dead on arrival.” But, speaking Wednesday, Sununu was more upbeat about new GOP-drawn maps for New Hampshire’s Executive Council districts.

Sununu’s comments came on the heels of the release of his own plan for redrawing congressional districts earlier this week, and which Republicans in the Legislature have conspicuously ignored.

Even so, Sununu told reporters he was hopeful of finding consensus on the thorny topic.

“There are many ideas on the table,” Sununu said, adding that his priority is to ensure the state’s two congressional seats, now held by Democrats, will be winnable by candidates in either party.

“Look: CD 1 could still get a little more Republican and be competitive; CD 2 could still get a little more Democrat and still be competitive,” Sununu said. “So there are opportunities to still do it in a variety of ways.”

Sununu’s proposal would keep Seacoast cities in the 1st District and move a few heavily-Republican towns, including Merrimack and Hookett, into the 2nd District.

The plan backed by the Republican-led House and Senate would move the Democratic strongholds of Portsmouth, Dover, and Somersworth from the 1st District into the 2nd District.

It would also place GOP-voting towns now in the 2nd, including Salem, Hudson and Pelham, into the 1st. Sununu dismissed that plan as removing the possibility of competitive races in either district.

“That would effectively lock in Annie Kuster as the Democratic representative in CD 2, in perpetuity, and you could potentially be doing that for the Republican candidate in CD1,” Sununu said.

Republicans in the state Senate, meanwhile, released a new proposal for fresh districts in the Executive Council Wednesday. The plan, never aired before publicly, could be put to a vote as soon as Thursday.

“The most common concern we heard during our 10 public hearings across the state was District 2 stretching from the Vermont border to the Seacoast,” said Sen. Jim Gray of Rochester, Chairman of the Senate Election law Committee.

Gray said the new map addresses that concern while also lowering the population differences between districts.

Sununu said he hadn’t studied the proposed Executive Council map in detail, but praised it for addressing “that weird snake [shape] and the discontinuity of towns and stuff” in the 2nd District.

“It appears they've taken care of a lot of that, “ Sununu said.

But the councilor now representing that district, Concord Democrat Cinde Warnington, was quick to call the new gerrymandered to benefit Republicans.

“The important thing is that the council district represents the population, that we are not having the councilors select their own districts; that’s what appears to be happening,” Warmington said.

This map does appear to confer a political advantage to the council’s most senior Republicans.

District 1, now represented by Republican Joe Kenney, would, for example, shed the heavily Democratic towns of the Upper Valley.

And District 5, now represented by David Wheeler, would lose the town of Peterborough, a hard place for any Republican to compete.

Even so, Wheeler said he’d hoped for more.

“It’s better than keeping the same districts but it’s not as good for Republicans as it should be,” Wheeler said Wednesday.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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