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Friday, December 16, 2011

Rejection of N.H. House redistricting plan urged

CONCORD – A bipartisan group of lawmakers came Thursday not to praise, but to try and bury the House Republican leadership plan to redistrict the entire 400-person body.

Most came to urge the House Special Committee on Redistricting Committee to abort plans to merge parts of cities with neighboring towns to form new House districts.

For Manchester Democratic Rep. Ben Baroody, his beef was with lumping two southeastern wards in his city with Litchfield to elect two House members.

“These two communities have absolutely nothing in common,” Baroody said.

Enfield Republican Rep. Paul Mirski, who chaired the special House committee that drafted the plan, defended it, pointing out this re-crafted map for electing House members doubles the number of districts and shrinks the size of the voting blocs that will choose them.

“I think before we are done here, we will have 206 districts statewide. That’s twice as many as we have and given the difficulty involved, I’m pretty happy with this result,” Mirski said.

But Mirski admitted that House lawyers advised him that federal and state court decisions trump a 2006 amendment approved by voters intended to give towns with enough population their own legislator.

“We simply could not make happen what the 2006 amendment would like to make happen,” Mirski said.

“The single, most discouraging thing for me has been the slow discovery of a whole raft of court cases. We cannot create as many individual districts as we would like.”

Indeed, in this House GOP plan there are 55 towns that have at least the 3,291 residents to “deserve” a House member on their own and don’t get one.

These would include Hudson, Brookline, Pelham, Wilton and New Ipswich, each of which select legislators with one or more other towns.

What House Republicans can do, Mirski and supporters said, is create a veto-immune redistricting bill and that’s what they intend to do.

“When it comes to legislative redistricting, you will find very clear language in the Constitution that the House and Senate will be responsible for their own chambers,” Mirski said.

“There is no room in there for gubernatorial vetoes.”

Hanover Democratic Rep. David Pierce, a lawyer, disagreed.

“I don’t see how your argument holds any weight. The state Constitution envisions all three branches of government playing a role on all legislation,” Pierce said.

Most of the three-hour public hearing focused on parochial arguments by lawmakers or local officials who didn’t like the grouping of communities. Gilford Republican Rep. Alida Millham objected to her town being lumped in with the larger Meredith that would make it harder for her local residents to win a seat in the House.

“I am mystified by the lack of flexibility of the committee’s plan,” Millham said.

Concord Democratic Reps. Candace Bouchard and Steve Shurtleff said it made no sense to pair Hopkinton with one southwestern ward in Concord.

“My goal is to keep Concord as one entity without any rep from the city sharing representation with a neighboring town,” Bouchard said.

Canterbury Republican Rep. Seth Cohn offered some alternations like peeling Roxbury away from neigbhoring Keene in one district and breaking Hopkinton from Concord. But having toyed with making his own maps with the guidelines laid out by House GOP lawyers, Cohn said it’s no easy job.

“The math is forcing a lot of these options,” Cohn agreed.

The full committee dominated by Republicans is expected to recommend Mirski’s plans when it next meets on Tuesday.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or