Gerrymandering Is Alive and Well in the Granite State

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Garry Rayno is's State House Bureau Chief. He is pictured in the press room at the State House in Concord.


Redrawing the state’s boundaries for the Congressional, Executive Council, state Senate and state House seats is a political process, but it should not be a millstone on the balance of power.

The old standard for gerrymandering in New Hampshire was the current, five-district Executive Council map with District 2, which snaked from Keene to the Maine border encompassing the Democratic enclaves of Keene, Concord and the greater Dover-Durham area.

It did contain three other districts that could be competitive depending on the year and the candidates, districts, 1, 4 and 5.

But the map the Senate passed as an amendment last week with absolutely no public input has greatly outdone the old map for partisan gerrymandering.

The new map manages to pick up another Democratic enclave as it slithers up the west side of the state to a couple of towns in southern Coos County

Saying those Coos County towns have shared concerns with Keene, Concord, Hanover, Lebanon and Claremont is whimsical.

Stepping back to look at the state’s partisan breakdown after the 2020 election reveals registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 347,825 to 333,165, with 438,239 independent or undeclared voters.

Packing a large number of Democratic voters into one executive council district does not create a model of representative government.

It does a wonderful job of ensuring minority rule for the next 10 years, which is what the redrawn Executive Council map accomplishes if it is allowed to stand.

The only district that might be competitive is District 1, which no longer includes the Democratic stronghold of the Upper Valley, but does have Dover and Durham within its boundary.

The change also would mean frequent District 1 Democratic candidate and executive councilor for one term, Michael Cryans will no longer be councilor Joseph Kenney’s opponent in the next election.

If Cryans wants to run for Executive Council he would have a primary with District 2 councilor Cinde Warmington.

There are other adjustments made to the districts to help the Republican incumbents.

District 5 has been a competitive seat with former councilor Democrat Debora Pignatelli of Nashua sharing the seat with current Republican councilor David Wheeler of Milford.

The district has traditionally included most of Hillsborough County communities outside of those around Manchester.

But the new district drops the towns of Peterborough and Sharon, which lean Democratic and picks up the Republican strongholds of Goshen, Lempster, Stoddard and Washington making the district much more Republican friendly.

District 4 has long been held by someone from Manchester, which is by far the largest community in the district.

But two Democratic leaning towns, Bow and Strafford, are no longer in District 4, but Republican stronghold Barnstead is, again making the district more Republican friendly.

The communities in District 3, which range from the Democratic stronghold of Portsmouth and surrounding towns to the heavily Republican communities along the border of Massachusetts, do not change under the amendment.

That district has been in Republican hands since the last redrawing of the political lines.

If the Congressional map that Gov. Chris Sununu said he would veto does not pass the smell test, the new map for the Executive Council districts is rancid.

The Executive Council may be a relic from the Colonial days when the citizens did not want to invest too much power with the executive so wanted to be sure to rein in his authority.

There are only two councils left from those days, Massachusetts and New Hampshire and the only one with real power is the  Granite State’s.

The council was intended to be a brake on the executive, and this council has done that quite frequently and quite recently.

About three years ago, Sununu nominated Attorney General Gordon MacDonald to become the new chief justice of the Supreme Court.

The then-Democratically controlled council refused to go along and Sununu had to wait for the council membership to change — Republican controlled — before he had the votes to confirm MacDonald to the position.

Last fall, Sununu and Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette asked the council to approve about $17 million in federal money to boost the state vaccination programs against COVID-19.

The proposal brought out some loud protesters who shut down one council meeting, but not a second one when a number were arrested.

The protesters did not need to be quite so vocal because the four council Republicans refused to approve the money.

Their refusal slowed the roll out of vaccination for teenagers and booster shots for adults, before an agreement was reached that allowed the majority of the council to go along with the request.

And recently, Shibinette proposed using $15 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to enter a partnership with Portsmouth Regional Hospital and its parent company, the for-profit Hospital Corporation of America, to construct a new mental and behavioral health facility in the Seacoast area.

However, Sununu has yet to find a way to convince a majority of the council to go along with the proposal, although state officials continue to say mental health services are one of the top priorities for the state, especially for young people who have had their social lives upended by the pandemic.

The council is also the first elected body to recommend a 10-year highway improvement plan that lays out all the transportation infrastructure priorities for the next 10 years.

So if your crumbling road is not included in the 10-year highway improvement plan, the council probably had something to do with that decision.

That is why the council really should be more representative of the state as a whole. Republicans do not make up 80 percent of registered voters in New Hampshire. The proposed council districts would essentially guarantee the supermajority for the next 10 years.

If that minority rule is allowed to continue unabated, a vast majority of the state residents — both Democrats and independents — will be disenfranchised or at least will lack a voice equal to their numbers.

That is not just gerrymandering, that is just plain undemocratic and tyranny by the minority.

Sununu should not only veto the Executive Council map, he should also veto the state Senate district map, because it is as unrepresentative as the council districts.

Gerrymandering is alive and well in New Hampshire.

Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for 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.

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