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Controversial congressional redistricting map moves ahead

Mar. 7—CONCORD — A controversial House-passed map that would make the state's two congressional districts more partisan-leaning took a step closer to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu, who has raised objections to it.

Along the same 3-2 party-line vote, the Senate Election Laws and Municipal Affairs Committee on Monday also recommended no changes to the five districts from which the state's Executive Council is chosen.

The votes show that whatever Sununu's misgivings, House and Senate Republican leaders are coming together behind all their plans to redraw district boundaries to reflect population changes in the 2020 Census.

Lawmakers only have to move about 9,000 people from the First Congressional District to the Second to make them roughly equal.

But in their bill (HB 52), House redistricting leaders swapped 75 towns and wards between the two districts, making the 1st C.D. much more Republican and the 2nd C.D. much more Democratic.

The plan moves the Democratic cities of Portsmouth, Rochester, Dover and Somersworth from the 1st District into the 2nd.

In turn, it moves some of the largest Republican towns in the southern tier from the 2nd District into the 1st — Salem, Hudson, Litchfield, Pelham, Atkinson and Windham.

Historic change

Critics maintain that it would undo 140 years of few changes being made to the congressional districts every 10 years.

Sen. James Gray, R-Rochester, said the congressional map properly equalizes the two in an acceptable way.

"I still think that the plan passed by the House meets all the criteria, and I can support that," Gray said.

Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, D-Portsmouth, said the change affects far too more voters than it should.

"HB 52 is disenfranchising voters in both of our districts because it creates a partisan advantage, and that's not our job," Perkins Kwoka said.

A day after the House acted on it in January, Sununu criticized the plan, suggesting changes were on the way.

"I don't love it. I don't think it's going to be the plan that ends up on my desk," Sununu said.

At the time, Sununu agreed what the House did was legal and constitutional, but he thought it went too far in both districts.

"We are a very independent state, so you shouldn't have a district that is all Democrat or all Republican," Sununu said.

In the past, Sununu has vowed to veto any redistricting plan that fails to pass the "smell test," but he has never gone that far in speaking about this measure.

The Senate panel went in the opposite direction with the Executive Council, turning aside the wishes of individual councilors to tweak their own districts and instead opting for no changes.

Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, Soucy had offered an amendment to change Council District 2, represented Concord Democrat Cinde Warmington, which spans the entire width of the state.

Former Councilor and Concord Democrat Colin Van Ostern called it a "salamander," and Sununu has said in the past it is too sprawling for one district.

But the Senate panel voted to send the council district legislation (SB 241) to interim study.

If the Senate agrees, that means there will be no changes for the 2022 elections and any effort to alter Executive Council boundaries in the future would have to start over.

klandrigan@unionleader.com