By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
You can pass resolutions, express your opinion at public hearings and before legislative committees, birddog the lawmakers making the decisions, but you cannot stop the majority party from giving itself every advantage it can to retain power when it redraws political boundaries.
And despite the efforts of many like the League of Women Voters, Fair Maps and Open Democracy to have a fair and open redrawing of the state’s political boundaries, the maps were drawn behind closed doors, by political operatives and their computer programs, and when finally passed and signed into law would ensure Republicans remain in power for the next 10 years in the Senate and Executive Council and probably the House.
Minority rule is almost guaranteed because of gerrymandering, although the map drawers will have their talking points to refute that, it is simply gerrymandering to retain political power, nothing else.
The map of the state Senate passed in that body earlier this month, will guarantee a 15 to 9 or 16 to 8 Republican advantage which in the later case is veto proof.
What is wrong with that you may ask?
A look at the voters on the checklists after the last general election paints a very different picture and should result in a much closer partisan split in the Senate.
According to information from the Secretary of State’s Office, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 347,828 to 333,165, that is a difference of 14,633.
However, undeclared or independents outnumber both Democrats and Republicans at 438,239, which is why elections can swing like they did between Democratic control after the 2018 election to Republican control after the 2020 election, although the state’s Congressional delegation is all Democrats.
According to the Secretary of State’s information more Democrats than Republicans reside in Cheshire, Grafton, Hillsborough, Merrimack, Strafford and Sullivan counties while more Republicans live in Belknap, Carroll, Coos (just barely), and Rockingham counties.
Despite what should be control of the county delegations in six of the 10 counties, going by population, that is not the case because delegations are House members, and the House is tilted to favor Republicans.
This is nothing new.
Redrawing the state’s political maps, which must be done every 10 years, has been solely a Republican undertaking in New Hampshire for nigh on a century, with one exception.
The exception was 2002 when then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed Republican plans and there were not enough Republicans in the House or Senate to override her veto.
Eventually the job fell to the state Supreme Court, which hired a firm to redraw the maps.
Democrats took control of the House and Senate for the first time since the Civil War in 2006 and 2008.
But like 2020, Democrats could not retain their grip on power in the 2010 elections and the House and Senate were once again under Republican control and with veto-proof majorities.
This year despite the many groups keeping their eyes on the process, gerrymandering has grown worse not better than it was 10 years ago.
The congressional districts are an abomination, one a thumb sticking up part of the state with Democratic strongholds along the eastern boundary moved to the Second District so there is a likely Republican First District and a Democratic Second District
Both districts have been competitive, although Democrats have held both seats for the last three elections, which might say more about the candidates than the partisan breakdown.
People tend to forget that Carol Shea Porter and Frank Guinta passed the First District seat back and forth for a decade.
The Second District has also been competitive as both Democrats and Republicans have held the seat over the last 20 years.
The state Senate map is almost as gerrymandered as the congressional districts as more democrats are moved into several Democratically held seats like District 5, District 10, District 15 and District 24, making the same number of districts less competitive and more Republican.
The orientation for District 16, which has traditionally been a third Manchester Senate seat, now has the more Republican towns of Goffstown and Raymond while two Manchester wards and Bow and Dunbarton were dropped from the district.
The House is a bit more difficult to gerrymander with 400 members and a constitutional amendment stating when possible towns with enough population to have their own representative should.
Republicans still managed to make the House more Republican leaning than it has been for the last decade.
And the gerrymandering goes on around the country, some plans so unfair courts intervened.
Republicans have been much better at drawing the boundaries to their advantage than Democrats although given control of the process in places like New York and Illinois they have done much the same as Republicans in tipping the scale.
But it has long been a Republican national strategy to first gain control of state governments so they can draw the lines for the congressional districts.
The changes in congressional districts for the 2022 elections will make it extremely difficult for Democrats to maintain control of the US House.
US Senate seats cannot be gerrymandered nor can governor’s but the rural versus urban and the differing populations in states does make the US Senate less representative of the national partisan breakdown than it might be.
But gerrymandering in New Hampshire or on a more national level creates more safe seats making the primary election the real one, not the general election.
What results is electing more candidates on the extremes of either party and that heightens the partisan divide evident in Washington and in New Hampshire.
Gerrymandering may be good for the party doing the drawing, but it is not good for the state as the legislature does not truly reflect the will of the people.
With gerrymandering, minority rule is almost guaranteed and that tends to turn people off from the political process, which is one of its goals.
Many groups tried to influence the process this time, to make it more fair and transparent, only to stand on the sidelines having to watch it all unfold like it always does.
The political boundaries were drawn long ago, and all the outside input does not have the influence to disrupt the lust for power.
The precise computer-driven gerrymandering programs produce too many politicians who do not have to answer to their constituents and that is never good in New Hampshire, or in Washington.
The end result of this approach is evident today.
American democracy was once a shining beacon to the world.
Now it is a flickering flame and a good gust of wind could blow it out.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.