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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Senate committee recommends changes to Executive Councilor districts

CONCORD – In a startling development, a state Senate committee tore up the House-passed redistricting of the Executive Council on Wednesday, moving dozens of towns among the five Republican-held districts.

Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, authored the change (HB 1670) that takes towns and cities along the Democratic-controlled Seacoast from Councilor Dan St. Hilaire, R-Concord.

In exchange, St. Hilaire would be given Grafton County turf such as Hanover, Lebanon, Lyme, Orford and Canaan among other towns.

Councilor Raymond Burton, R-Bath, has had all of Grafton County as part of his turf for 20 years and is not happy to be picking up Somersworth and Rochester along the Maine border.

The changes are a mini-boon to Councilor Dave Wheeler, R-Milford, for whom the House already had agreed to carve out Keene, a stronghold for ex-Councilor Debora Pignatelli, a Nashua Democrat who lost to Wheeler in 2010 and is running again this fall.

The Senate changes further peel away what are considered the Keene suburbs Peterborough, Hancock, Richmond and Fitzwilliam from Wheeler.

In turn, Wheeler would pick up the big Republican-leaning towns of Hudson and Goffstown.

Retiring Councilor Raymond Wieczorek, R-Manchester, complained to Bragdon that the Senate map would have the Queen City-based district extend to Dover on the Seacoast and Barnstead/Gilmanton in the Lakes Region.

After the Senate committee’s 4-1 vote endorsing the plan, Bragdon agreed to meet privately with Wieczorek, and observers fully expect there could be further changes.

The Senate moves are similar to a blueprint offered by Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, that the House rejected.

“Sen. Bragdon indicated to me he liked parts of my plan,” Vaillancourt said.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, was the lone member of the Senate Internal Affairs Committee to oppose the plan.

Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen of Concord said she liked this map better than the House one that appeared to be gerrymandering to profit the districts of GOP incumbents Wheeler, Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, and Wieczorek.

“At least this plan has some geographic continuity,” Larsen added.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@KLandrigan).