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With path forward unclear, lawmakers resume process of redrawing N.H.'s congressional districts

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Allegra Boverman for NHPR
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Gov. Chris Sununu’s proposed map for New Hampshire’s two Congressional districts will get a public airing before the House’s Special Redistricting Committee Friday, the first public step towards resolving an impasse over redistricting since Sununu pledged to veto the plan backed by fellow Republicans a month ago.

Sununu offered up his proposed map a month ago after dismissing the plan passed by the GOP-led House and Senate as not reflective of the state’s politics. He also said that map would lead to preordained outcomes, with a Republican all but guaranteed to carry the First Congressional District, and a Democrat the Second District.

Sununu’s map, which hews far closer to the state’s current districts than what lawmakers passed, generated plenty of private criticism from Republicans. But until now, the public posture has been to ignore it.

Sununu indicated Wednesday he wasn’t planning to participate in the hearing for his own map, but thinks a map that reflects what he’s called the New Hampshire’s “purple state” nature can be ready for this fall’s election without the intervention of the courts.

“I’ve seen lots of different opportunities for maps,” Sununu said Wednesday. “We kind of threw a map out there to say, ‘it can be done.’ ”

New Hampshire’s Supreme Court has, meanwhile, set a timetable for hearing a lawsuit filed by Democrats, including former House Speaker Terie Norelli, that alleges that holding the 2022 election using the current Congressional maps would violate the constitution

The court this month named a special master in the case and asked for briefs to be filed by Monday, and scheduled a round of oral arguments for May 4.

The court called these “preliminary steps” that “in no way precludes the legislature from enacting a redistricting plan.”

The political dynamic around redistricting between Sununu and Republicans – and Republicans and Democrats -- could make speedy agreement on any plan, let alone Sununu’s, elusive. Adding to the time crunch is the 10 day filing period for candidates that opens June 1st.

“We are going to have a hearing on it, consider it, and discuss the pros and cons and evaluate it in public,” Rep Ross Berry of Manchester said of Sununu’s map.

Berry was a key architect of the map Sununu said he’d veto. Berry said there has been little contact between Sununu’s office and State House Republicans involved in redistricting, and the nature of any outreach has been administrative in nature.

“There’s nothing sexy about it,” Berry said.

Democrats on the committee, for their part, say Sununu’s map may be preferable to the one that passed the House and Senate, but that doesn’t mean it should be used to set political boundaries for the next decade.

‘We will say, ‘let’s take another look at the fairest plan proposed, the Democratic one,’ ” said Rep Marjorie Smith of Durham.

That plan, which the House rejected in January, would leave current districts intact, save for moving the largely-Republican town of Hampstead from the First District to the Second District.

Republicans have said that proposal is a non-starter. Sununu, meanwhile, said he just wants lawmakers to heed what he sees is the public’s will,

“There are probably a hundred different maps possible that would meet the criteria that we are all looking for,” Sununu said. “They’ve got to get the votes, they’ve got to work hard and pass something.”

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