CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu gave a negative review of the House-passed plan to redistrict the state’s two congressional districts, suggesting it would create seats that would be too partisan-leaning.

“I don’t love it. I don’t think it’s going to be the plan that ends up on my desk,” Sununu said Friday.

The comments threw a monkey wrench into a process Republican state party leaders hoped would contain little dissent within GOP ranks since they hold sway in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, state Senate and the corner office.

Last Thursday, the House passed over a redistricting plan (HB 52) to the state Senate its supporters acknowledge makes the 1st Congressional District more competitive and a Republican could prevail.

House Republicans broke, 185-5, in favor of this proposal which cleared the House on a 186-164 vote.

It now heads to the state Senate for review.

More than a half-dozen Republicans have already announced they would challenge U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H. He said he’s seeking a third term no matter the outcome of this redistricting dispute.

During an appearance on the “Good Morning NH” radio talk show program with Jack Heath, Sununu agreed the plan as crafted was “legal and constitutional,” but he still found fault with it.

“We are a very independent state so you shouldn’t have a district that is all Democrat or all Republican,” Sununu said.

The House plan swaps 75 towns and/or city wards, with more than 300,000 people — or a quarter of the state’s entire population — between the two districts.

That’s despite the fact that to equalize these two districts, the Legislature only had to move about 9,000 residents from the 1st to the 2nd Congressional District.

The plan moves from the 1st into the 2nd District the Democratic cities of Portsmouth, Rochester, Dover and Somersworth.

In turn, it moves some of the largest Republican towns in the southern tier from the 2nd into the 1st — Salem, Hudson, Litchfield, Pelham, Atkinson and Windham.

Analysis of 2020 returns

An analysis by the Union Leader of 2020 election returns reveals how much harder it would be for Pappas to win this fall, running in the altered district.

On Nov. 3, 2020, Pappas beat Republican nominee Matt Mowers of Gilford by roughly 5%.

Among the towns and cities taken from Pappas’ district and given to the 2nd District under this plan, however, Pappas beat Mowers by 18%.

The difference is even more striking in the “new” towns and the city of Franklin that would go from the 2nd to the 1st District under the House plan.

In 2020, Democrat Annie Kuster coasted to a fifth term over Nashua Republican Steve Negron by an 11% margin.

Yet in these towns that go into Pappas’ altered district under the House-passed plan, Negron actually beat Kuster by nearly 9%.

Sununu did not say if he would veto the plan, perhaps hoping it will be altered in the Senate.

Last summer Sununu had vowed to veto any redistricting plans that fail to pass the “smell test.”

Public hearing

Sununu did say he thinks it’s likely the congressional maps presented to his desk will come out of a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators who resolve differences between competing maps.The Senate Redistricting Committee will host a public hearing Monday on the plans it has been working on to redraw boundaries for the 24 Senate seats and the five seats on the Executive Council.

House Redistricting Committee Chairman Barbara Griffin, R-Goffstown, said the House-passed plan was not the “most partisan” one that had been discussed.

Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, said these changes equalized the two district to less than 100 residents.

And Rep. Robert Lynn, R-Windham, said the New Hampshire presidential primary wins of conservative Republican Ronald Reagan and liberal Democrat Bernie Sanders proved individual candidates can overcome party registration that seem to favor “centrist” hopefuls.

State Democratic Party leaders questioned whether Sununu would stand up to his party’s right-wing when it came time to make a final decision.

“The governor is correct that the current Republican proposal is gerrymandered but saying he doesn’t like the maps isn’t enough,” said Lucas Meyer with the liberal 603 Forward interest group.

“For the Senate to know he is serious he must commit to veto this map — and any gerrymandered map — so that people understand there are actions behind his words”

State Democratic leaders noted in December 2017 Sununu came out in opposition to legislation that critics charged restricted the rights of out-of-state college students to vote here.

“‘I hate it. I know what you’re talking about. I’m hoping that the Legislature kills it,” said Sununu adding later that he would “never support anything that suppresses the student vote.”

Roughly six months later, Sununu ended up signing that bill (HB 1264) into law.

Ultimately, the state Supreme Court ruled in 2020 the change did not restrict anyone’s right to vote here, but reinforced the requirement of out-of-state students to register their cars in New Hampshire.