A redistricting plan proposed by New Hampshire House Republicans makes good on the vow of some party leaders to make the 1st Congressional District more winnable for the GOP.
The plan, reviewed by the House Special Committee on Redistricting Thursday, would move the heavily Democratic cities of Portsmouth, Dover and Somersworth out of the 1st Congressional District and into the 2nd.
It also moves some of the largest Republican towns from the 2nd into the 1st — Salem, Hudson, Pelham, Litchfield and Windham.
Other towns that would move to the 2nd District are Lee, Barrington, Rollinsford, Durham, New Castle, Madbury and Lee, all of which have more Democratic than Republican voters.
Towns moving into the 1st District under the plan include Atkinson, Weare, New Boston, Danbury, Dunbarton, Loudon, Epsom and Northwood, all of which have many more Republican than Democratic voters.
If adopted, the new district would make it harder for Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas to win a third term if he runs again in 2022.
The GOP map also would improve the reelection chances of Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster, who is in her fifth term in the 2nd District.
The panel is required to balance the two districts, because the 1st District currently has almost 18,000 more residents than the 2nd.
A competing proposal offered by House Democrats would make a single change, moving the town of Hampstead from the 1st to the 2nd District.
Grouped with Manchester
State Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, said one goal was to move several nearby communities into the 1st District with Manchester, including Hudson, Litchfield, Pelham, Salem, Atkinson and Windham.
The only way to offset that big a population shift was to move larger cities and towns into the 2nd, including the Seacoast communities, Berry said.
A coalition of liberal voting-rights organizations said its analysis concluded the GOP plan was partisan. They compared it with what Republicans did in 2010, when they created one heavily Democratic Executive Council district the width of New Hampshire to improve Republicans’ chances in the other four districts.
“The Republican proposal is the most significant change to the map in over 100 years, and similar to the 2010 Executive Council District 2, packs Democrats into District 2, making it not competitive for Republicans, and therefore leaving District 1 with a higher percentage of Republicans,” said the group, which includes Granite State Progress, the League of Women Voters, Open Democracy Now and the Kent Street Coalition. “Such a map could stunt turnout in District 2, as overwhelmed Republican voters will see less incentive to vote.”
After a work session Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu said he’ll closely follow the issue.
“This is the first round of maps that the public is seeing, and there are still many steps left in this democratic process,” Sununu said in a statement. “Like many Granite Staters, I will look closely at these proposals and await further revisions as the redistricting process moves forward.”
The House panel will take public testimony on these plans and other redistricting proposals at two State House sessions, next Tuesday at 10 a.m. and next Wednesday at 5 p.m.
75 precincts would move
The coalition said the GOP plan would move 75 towns or city wards and 365,703 people into a different district, which represents about a quarter of the state’s population.
According to the group, only 22 towns have changed congressional districts since 1883.
Liz Tantarelli, president of the New Hampshire League of Women Voters, said the GOP congressional map at a glance appears to be gerrymandering.
“This makes no sense to me, and it makes no sense to move that many people,” Tantarelli said.
The GOP plan results in a difference of only 177 people between the two districts; House Democrats claimed their plan had a difference of 51 voters.
State Rep. Robert Lynn, R-Windham, defended the plan.
“Were political considerations something that were in the mix? Of course they were. This is a political process as the Supreme Court has said repeatedly, both the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Lynn, a retired state Supreme Court chief justice.
Rep. Matt Wilhelm, D-Manchester, said both districts have been competitive, but this GOP map would change that.
“I am concerned there are going to be blowouts with these maps, both for CD 1 and CD 2,” Wilhelm said.
What will Sununu do?
Right after Republicans regained control of the Legislature in the 2020 election, Republican State Chairman Steve Stepanek said a top goal was to make the 1st District a GOP seat.
Many Republicans already have declared they will seek the seat in 2022, including 2020 nominee Matt Mowers, former Trump White House staffer Karoline Leavitt, Seabrook state Rep. Timothy Baxter and Gail Huff Brown, the wife of former Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.
Former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta was the last Republican to win in the 1st District, in 2014.
Pappas said he would consider running for governor next year if the Republicans made his district tough to win.
Sununu, who is strongly considering a U.S. Senate run next year, has said he would veto any redistricting plan that was obvious gerrymandering and didn’t pass the “smell test.”
In two straight years, Sununu vetoed bills to create an independent redistricting commission to redraw the maps. In those vetoes, Sununu said the Legislature represents the people in this process.
Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, said such a sweeping change wasn’t necessary.
“Can’t we adopt the principle of, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Smith asked.
Committee Chairman and Rep. Barbara Griffin, R-Goffstown, said the redistricting process is always about fixing shifts in population.
“I don’t know how you determine whether it is broke or not,” Griffin said. “Do you determine that by the partisan result?”
House Deputy Speaker Steven Smith, R-Charlestown, said he wanted to alter the 2nd District, which currently includes communities from Nashua to Colebrook.
He resisted the critics’ argument that the plan alters too many “communities of interest,” such as towns that share the same high school.
“Maybe for me the community arguments, they just don’t swing that much weight because CD 2 … is the most screwed-up district there is,” Smith said.