CONCORD — New Hampshire House and Senate negotiators approved another congressional map on Monday as time is running out to meet legislative and court deadlines.
New Hampshire is one of the few states that has not yet completed the redistricting process required every 10 years to adapt districts to changing demographics. Democrats hold the two US seats, but Republicans hold a majority in the Legislative Assembly 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 has vowed to veto it. The House then passed a second plan that would consolidate communities along the I-93 corridor, but the Senate rejected it, referring the matter to a conference committee to find a compromise.
According to the plan approved by the committee on Monday, the 1st District would cover the southeastern corner of the state while the 2nd District would cover the western half of the state and the northern part of the country. Lawmakers said it would give Republicans an advantage in the 1st District, but not as prominently as previous plans.
More than two dozen cities and towns would change districts, including Manchester, the largest city and home of U.S. Representative Chris Pappas. This would place him and Representative Annie Kuster in the 2nd District, although there is no requirement for members of Congress to live in the districts they represent.
The lone Democrat on the conference committee, Senator 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 really an exercise in just balancing the population, these big, drastic changes aren’t necessary,” she said.
The new plan would also move 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.
The new map keeps all Seacoast communities in the 1st District, which was not the case in the plan Sununu had sworn to veto.
May 26 is the last day for the Legislative Assembly to decide on all bills. Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court is poised to take over if the legislature remains at an impasse with the governor. In response to a lawsuit filed by former House Speaker Terie Norelli and others last month, the court said it would use existing districts as a benchmark and use a ‘least change’ approach. .
Rep. Steven Smith, R-Charlestown, opposes this approach, instead advocating 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 made when goods were transported on rivers, horse-drawn wagons and steam trains” , did he declare.
Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, who developed the failed I-93 corridor plan, agreed and said “compactness” shouldn’t be a major factor in developing the maps.
“You can have a neighborhood that makes sense, or you can have a neighborhood that looks good. Doing both is next to impossible, especially since the state’s population isn’t evenly dispersed,” did he declare.
But in the end, he supported the revised map.
“The redistricting process: it’s ugly. It’s political. Nobody leaves clean. I would actually venture to say that nobody leaves happy,” he said. “If we get a map where everything is fine and no one is happy, we’ve probably done our job.”
Sununu is still reviewing the latest proposal, his office said. The nomination period for the September 13 primaries opens on June 1.