Senate redistricting plan gets rough review

Activists calling for more fair redistricting plans sang holiday season parody songs outside the State House as the Senate Redistricting Committee took testimony on proposed changes to Senate and Executive Council voting districts.

CONCORD — The plan of State Senate Republican leaders to set election boundaries for 24 senators and five seats on the Executive Council got negative reviews during a public hearing Monday.

Leaders in Map-a-Thon, a liberal activist group working on their own redistricting proposals, maintained the Senate GOP plan would make it likely at least 15 Republicans would win Senate seats every two years.

Presently, the GOP holds a 14-10 majority even though in the 2020 election the Republican candidates for Senate seats got only 50.2% of the statewide vote.

The current districts were approved by the GOP-led Legislature in 2011.

Olivia Zink, executive director of Open Democracy Now, said the goal looks to be to create a “veto-proof” super-majority which would be 16 GOP senators.

“I do not wish to see a Republican or a Democratic plan; I wish to see one plan that is beneficial for the entire state and not one political party,” Zink told the Senate Redistricting Committee during a hearing in Representatives Hall, the House chamber.

Sen James Gray, R-Rochester, said his aim in drawing his proposed Senate map (SB 240) was only to alter districts that had to be changed due to population shifts since the last Census.

That’s why he left eight seats exactly the same as they have been for the past decade.

But Lucas Meyer, with the liberal group 603 Forward, said the Senate GOP map was much too partisan.

“These maps undermine free and fair elections by allowing politicians to pick their voters and that is why not a single Granite Stater testified in support of their corrupt maps today,” Meyer said.

Other speakers at Monday’s hearing were upset that the Senate GOP did not propose any changes to the five seats on the Executive Council (SB 254).

“It is just as obvious gerrymandering now as it was back when it was created in 2011,” said Liz Tentarelli, president of the New Hampshire League of Women Voters.

Gov. Chris Sununu has been critical in the past of the council districts, specifically District 2, which spans the entire width of the state.

Democratic leaders maintain GOP leaders in 2010 loaded up District 2 to be very Democratic in order to improve the odds of Republicans winning in the other four districts.

“It’s not fair; it’s not balanced and it has to be fixed,” said Brian Biehl, deputy director of the open democracy group.

Gray said the current council districts were within the right range of population for each one so there was no need to make a change.

Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, D-Manchester, was the only incumbent in either party to urge the Senate panel to reject changes made to his own district.

Cavanaugh represents District 16, which includes Manchester wards 1,2 and 12 along with the towns of Bow, Candia, Dunbarton and Hooksett.

The Senate GOP map would leave only Cavanaugh’s home Manchester Ward 1 in the district along with Candia, Goffstown, Hooksett and Raymond.

Cavanaugh said many schools and other organizations are made up of multiple Manchester wards.

And he noted the GOP has a 6% registration advantage with the current district.

“Keep District 16 competitive; I am willing to fight for it,” Cavanaugh said.

Gray said by the numbers Manchester should have two of its own state senators.

To do this would mean Cavanaugh would likely have to run for reelection in a district with Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, who represents the center city and west side.

Senate Democratic leader Donna Soucy represents the central, eastern- and southern-most sections of the city.

Other speakers were critical Gray’s Senate plan lumped the college towns of Hanover, Plymouth and New London into a very Democratic district which allowed it to make more Republican neighboring ones.

Soucy had offered Senate Democratic alternative plans for the Senate (SB 253) and for changes to the council districts (SB 254).