It’s looking like perhaps one of the most partisan activities at the State House could be taken out of the hands of state legislators.

We’re quite a ways from pay dirt on this issue but the 20-0 vote Wednesday of the House Election Law Committee significantly raises the hopes of advocates for creating an independent redistricting commission.

If this reform is going to happen, 2019 would be the year since this job will fall to the Legislature and governor that get elected in 2020.

Longtime state Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, is the prime architect of this proposal (HB 706) that sets up a complicated process that tries to take much of the politics out of the 10-year exercise of redrawing election districts.

Under current law, the majority in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and the state Senate at the time has the upper hand in deciding what these districts look like.

They get to form special committees that redraw the lines with a majority of their party on the panel.

The last time came after the tea party election of 2010 in which Republicans held a 3-1 majority in both chambers.

As a result even GOP partisans would acknowledge that the maps which resulted were GOP friendly.

Smith’s plan would start with the secretary of state selecting a pool of 45 applicants that eventually would get winnowed down to 15 — five Democrats, five Republicans and five independent voters.

Elected officials, candidates, party officers, lobbyists and big donors could not serve as members of the commission.

The commission would submit plans to the Legislature for its approval.

To create an incentive for lawmakers to endorse the plan, this sets up a process for the state Supreme Court to step in and redraw the lines early in an election year.

“At the core of our democracy is voters’ trust in the system. This bill today ensures that voters will pick their politicians and not the other way around,” Smith said.

“I am thrilled that all members of the House Election Law Committee, regardless of party, came together to support this legislation. No political party can predict the future but this bill should make every Granite Stater trust that no matter who is in power the system will work for everyone.”

State Senate Democrats are endorsing their own bill (SB 8) from Sen. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, which creates a seven-member commission giving legislative leaders of both parties the power to appoint four of them.

Did other Dems activity push up Bernie timetable?

You would think the winner of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire would not have to be in any hurry to enter the 2020 field.

Vice President Joe Biden is the only one to rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in name recognition and the ability to quickly build an organization.

But Sanders no doubt didn’t count on so many liberal Democrats formally entering the race and for several of them to receive a lot of early enthusiasm in New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and other key states.

So even though Sanders may not be ready to campaign full-time, he decided to confirm at the beginning of the week that he’s in the 2020 hunt.

Many lesser-known Democrats who have yet to enter this race formally would prefer to wait until near the end of March, which marks the first quarter of campaign fundraising.

In this way they wouldn’t be embarrassed to have raised so little money compared to others who’ve been running for months.

Sanders didn’t have this problem.

Within 24 hours of making clear he’s in, Sanders campaign officials said he had raised $6 million online.

As for his first campaign visit to New Hampshire, that will come next month according to some of his key supporters here.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren will be the first major candidate to return to New Hampshire since Sanders jumped into the race.

She is the keynote speaker for the 60th edition of the McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Manchester.

The Friday night speech will include remarks by the entire congressional delegation, both legislative leaders and Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig.

Warren follows it up with stops in Laconia, Plymouth and Nashua on Saturday.

Weld comes back to NH

Former Mass. Gov. and 2016 Libertarian vice presidential nominee Bill Weld returns to the state today (Thursday) as part of the 2020 GOP presidential exploratory committee he announced the previous week.

Weld will give remarks, take questions and share pizza with journalism and political science students at the DiPietro Library on the campus of Franklin Pierce University in Ridge.

Ex-GOP State Chairman Jennifer Horn of Nashua is advising Weld’s exploratory campaign.

During an interview last week, Weld said despite the threats from other states New Hampshire’s primary has never been more influential.

If Weld runs, he expects to do well here.

I’m a great believer in the first-in-the-nation primary and I think it’s good for America that New Hampshire has been as important as it has been,” Weld said.

“I can say that New Hampshire is my kind of folks. I don’t have to go to Cabela’s and buy my outfit before I show up in New Hampshire. I’ve spent a fair amount of time here.”

(For more Granite Status, go to www.unionleader.com.)

Hassan continues anti-Trump tariff tour

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, visits Extreme Networks in Salem today (Thursday) to discuss President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminium. Hassan introduced a bipartisan Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act with senators Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., that would relieve businesses and consumers of these trade restrictions.

Automatic voter registration bill wins support

A sizable number of groups turned out this week to favor the election reform measure of Sen. Melanie Levesque, D-Brookline, to create an automatic voter registration process known as the Secure Modern Accurate Registration Technology (SMART Act).

“It’s all there in the name—the SMART Act is a smart move for New Hampshire that creates a secure, modern, and accurate registration system to safeguard and improve access to our elections. As the first-in-the-nation state that’s a goal we should all share,” Levesque said.

Trey Grayson, the former Republican secretary of state for Kentucky, endorsed it.

“We can all agree that outdated voter rolls are a problem that must be addressed to safeguard the integrity of our elections. The Secure Modern Accurate Registration Technology Act is a nonpartisan solution that ensures that voter lists are accurate and that eligible voters can securely participate in our elections,” Grayson said.

The bill (SB 7) would allow government agencies including the Division of Motor Vehicles to collect the data to register eligible voters and transfer it to the secretary of state’s office to register voters.

NH GOP leaders dividing labor

New Republican State Chairman Stephen Stepanek’s calling out of the federal delegation to take a position on scandals and anti-abortion legislation in Virginia earlier this week revealed his strategic approach.

Stepanek will be taking the lead on federal issues while new Vice Chairman Pamela Tucker will be pressing the case against Democratic leaders in the state Legislature, most notably the Senate that the GOP really wants to win back in 2020.

“It boggles my mind what is going on in Virginia where there are calls for the top three officials in state government to leave and all four of our Democratic representatives in Washington have nothing to say about it,” Stepanek said.

The top GOP leader had a pretty successful visit to Washington two weeks ago meeting with top political officials in the Trump administration and the Republican National Committee.

Stepanek also has a top priority to seek out those who could get interested in taking on Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, in 2020.

Venture capitalist Jay Lucas of New London is the only prominent Republican who hasn’t ruled out such a campaign.

Lucas was the GOP nominee for governor in 1998, losing badly in that race to then-Gov. Shaheen.

Didn’t take long for Dems to slam Sununu budgetLast week Gov.

Chris Sununu

presented his budget message and urged Democratic legislative leaders not to go on a permanent spending spree.

After Sununu made his formal presentation to House budget writers, new Finance Chairman Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, said Sununu should have sharpened his pencil.

Wallner maintained that Sununu’s spending proposal did not contain all the money to staff up the Division of Children Youth and Families as Sununu had said it did.

”Just one week ago the governor promised us a budget with no political games or gimmicks. Today in his first opportunity since that speech we found out he is funding less than half of the DCYF positions he promised and less than one-third of the number of case workers recommended by the experts who studied DCYF staffing last year,” Wallner said in a statement.

There’s plenty of time for Sununu and Democratic legislative leaders to get together on a compromise spending bill.

It is instructive to remember the last governor in a second term, Democrat Hassan, vetoed a state budget plan in 2015.

She not only survived that showdown but narrowly won a U.S. Senate seat a year later.

The different dynamic here is that in 2020 Sununu isn’t looking to go anywhere else in 2020.Latest 2020 Democrat signs on to speak at Politics and Eggs South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the latest to confirm he’ll be speaking at the Politics and Eggs forum.

Buttigieg’s will be speaking Friday, March 8 at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on the campus of Saint Anselm College.

Gun Free Zone debate to play out in NH HouseWe will soon have the first pretty competitive battle over gun rights in the Legislature.

The House Education Committee narrowly endorsed a measure creating statewide gun free zones around public schools (HB 564).

The 11-8 vote ensures this one will be closely fought by both sides when it reaches the House in the coming weeks. This bill prevents anyone from possessing a gun within 1,000 feet of a school unless that person is licensed by the state to carry the firearm.

The New Hampshire Firearms Coalition launched an aggressive petition against similar legislation last year that helped stop it in its tracks.

You can be sure the group won’t fight any less hard now that Democrats are in control.

2018 Democratic congressional contender gets new gig

Maura Sullivan

, the competitive Democratic candidate for Congress in New Hampshire’s 1st District, has landed a new job as the new chief executive officer of the Warrior-Scholar Project, a national nonprofit that hosts academic boot camps free of charge at some of America’s top colleges and universities.

”I am proud to join the WSP team, an organization committed to serving veterans and military families across our country,” Sullivan said in a statement.

“WSP engages veterans at an all-too-critical transition point from the military to civilian life where issues of higher education, community, job training, and mental health are paramount. I am excited to lead WSP in their next chapter and grateful for the opportunity to serve.”