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Friday, January 6, 2012

Proposed Senate redistricting plan released

CONCORD – Pitting former Senate President Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, against a freshman Republican and the creation of a new district in Strafford County highlight sweeping changes in a proposed reworking of the 24 state Senate districts released Thursday.

The redistricting plan gives an even stronger GOP flavor to the incumbent seats held by Senate President Peter Bragdon of Milford, Hollis Sen. Jim Luther, Hampton Sen. Nancy Stiles and Meredith Sen. Jeanie Forrester, all Republicans.

It also carves out a new, likely Democratic district that no one in the Senate now represents, made up of Dover, Somersworth, Rollinsford and Barrington.

The Senate Republican proposal from Kingston Sen. Russell Prescott faces its first public hearing next Wednesday. The state Senate will likely vote to adopt it on Jan. 25.

“The committee is looking forward to public input on SB 201 and hopes other plans will also be put forward for members to review,’’ Prescott said in a statement. “We are required to redistrict every ten years and the final map of new districts is always driven by the population shifts across New Hampshire.”

Senate Republicans hold a 19-5 advantage in the upper chamber and Larsen, the Senate Democratic leader, protested this latest version was crafted in secret.

“While redistricting is supposed to be an open and public proposal, this plan was designed in backrooms with clear partisan motivation to promote a future of Republican domination in the State House,” Larsen said.

“I am concerned about the consequences of redrawing the state’s entire political landscape without adequate examination and public feedback,” Larsen added.

Veteran observers from both political parties agree the re-crafted map gives Senate Democrats a legitimate chance in the next election of picking up two or three seats. But as realigned, several Senate Republican seats would be made even more secure and make it highly unlikely that Democrats could reach a 12-12 stalemate with the majority party.

Larson is the only Democrat in the Senate who faces a potential challenge from an incumbent that may not come to pass. The hometown of Henniker Republican Andy Sanborn was put into Larsen’s district, which has Concord as the hub and would stay decidedly Democratic.

But Sanborn has told associates that he’s already contemplating moving out of his district before the next election and has properties in both Gilford and Loudon.

In Gilford, Sanborn would have an open shot at a Senate seat since that Lakes Region district was carved up thanks to the retirement later this year of Strafford Republican Sen. Jim Forsythe.

Likewise, the district of retiring Bedford Republican Sen. Ray White would undergo big changes as Merrimack would leave his district and go into Bragdon’s 11th district.

Bragdon’s district would get Wilton, as well, while dropping seven towns in that stretch westward and some are even distant suburbs of Keene.

Luther’s Greater Nashua district becomes more Republican because his region would add New Ipswich and Rindge while dropping Nashua Ward 9.

Nashua Republican Rep. Gary Lambert’s district would pick up that fifth Nashua ward and remain a Democratically-leaning seat. Lambert has not confirmed if he will seek a second term. Some observers expect he will not.

Many Senate districts would be left alone and unchanged with this new map including those of Londonderry Republican Sharon Carson, who represents Hudson, and Tom DeBlois of Manchester, who has Litchfield in his district, and Derry Republican Jim Rausch, who represents Windham.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don’t forget The Telegraph’s new, interactive live feed at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.