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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Senate passes Executive Council redistricting plan

CONCORD – The state Senate narrowly endorsed a new wrinkle in redistricting of the Executive Council’s five districts as they sought to appease unhappy Republican incumbents.

The plan prompted six GOP senators to buck their leadership and oppose the amended proposal, HB 1670.

Only a vote from Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, in support of the plan Wednesday allowed it to pass, 13-11.

A move sponsored by Senate Democrats to keep the districts the same as they have been since 1992 failed, 14-10.

One of the Republican mavericks to oppose the Senate GOP design for the council was Sen. Tom DeBlois, R-Manchester, who has already confirmed that he’ll run for the District 4 council seat opening up with the retirement of Councilor Raymond Wieczorek, R-Manchester.

These changes take the Nashua area towns of Hudson and Litchfield out of Wieczorek’s turf.

Gaining this pair of towns would be District 5, occupied by Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford, who would end up with a more GOP-leaning district as he tries to fend off a rematch with former Councilor Debora Pignatelli, a Nashua Democrat.

The plan includes adding to Wheeler’s district the GOP-heavy towns of Goffstown and Weare, while dropping the Democratic stronghold city of Keene along with many Keene suburbs.

Sen. Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, said the latest changes were made to allay the criticism of Councilor Raymond Burton, R-Bath, by far the longest-serving incumbent.

The new plan gives back several Grafton County towns that Burton had always represented. The House and Senate plans give the Seacoast or Maine-bordering cities of Dover, Rochester and Somersworth to the councilor who already represents the top 40 percent of the state all the way to the Canadian border.

The most vulnerable incumbent by far in these plans is one-term Councilor Dan St. Hilaire, R-Concord, who already faces a tough race from Democratic operative Colin Van Ostern of Concord.

The House plan had St. Hilaire’s district stretching from the Vermont border to the Maine border across the diameter of the state.

Prescott noted the Senate plan created less jagged districts in taking from St. Hilaire the most eastern part of those changes.

It also creates five districts more equal in size than what the House passed, Prescott said.

“Our plan has compact and contiguous districts,” he said.

The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives, which must decide whether to accept the changes or try to negotiate a compromise.

In a related development, the House approved Senate-passed changes to the two congressional districts that had the support of U.S. Reps. Charles Bass and Frank Guinta, both Republicans.

The final plan has a six-town swap between the two districts, and this bill, SB 202, now eventually will go to the desk of Gov. John Lynch.

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.