Valley News – Upper Valley hearings set as NH lawmakers prepare for redistribution
NORTH HAVERHILL – Lawmakers drawing legislative maps that will shape New Hampshire’s political landscape for the next decade will meet in Grafton County next week to hear what residents have to say about their representation at Concord.
The House Special Committee on Redistribution and its Senate counterpart will meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill for a public hearing on the redistribution process.
A Sullivan County forum is scheduled for mid-October in Claremont.
The two meetings are part of a statewide tour where lawmakers hope to hear what works and what doesn’t on New Hampshire’s legislative maps.
So far, they’ve heard from cities who want better representation in the House of 400, Granite Staters who want more opportunities to comment on redesigned districts, and advocates worried about the prospect of political gerrymandering.
In July, the Canaan Selectboard asked the House committee for its own representative.
Canaan is found in two districts of House, one floterial which extends into the White Mountains and another which includes Dorchester and Wentworth. But, board members said in a letter, the city has a large enough population (3,794) to warrant a representative, given that an “ideal” neighborhood has around 3,447 people.
“Cities like Canaan, with enough population to require one or more state officials, deserve the ability to send a local representative to Concord who knows and can advocate for local concerns about taxation, education, infrastructure. and more, ”the Selectboard wrote. . “Currently, Canaan is deprived of this right. “
Residents of New London, which shares two House seats with Newbury, NH, also asked lawmakers for its own seat in a hearing earlier this month. Recent census figures put the city’s population at 4,400.
“I urge the committee to redirect New London and other eligible cities to be given the representation they are legally entitled to,” said Nancy Maracio, a resident of New London, who estimated that around 62 municipalities from New Hampshire are eligible for their own House seat.
Whether they like it or not, Lebanese officials also expect a change in the city’s neighborhoods this year. Lebanon, which has four elected seats in the Chamber, was spared by the division of the districts of its Chamber by neighborhood in 2011.
State Representative Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, said she believes the redistribution committee will ensure that each of Lebanon’s three neighborhoods have a representative, with a floating district covering the entire city constituting the fourth slot. Such a system was installed in Claremont ten years ago.
“If you have wards, you’re supposed to be divided into them,” Almy said, citing a 2006 constitutional amendment that encourages smaller districts.
Almy added that she was interested to see how the Senate redraws its map, saying it is one of the “most gerrymandered bodies in the country”, along with the Executive Council. Both bodies currently lean heavily towards Republicans.
Some advocates fear the redistribution process will repeat itself in 2011, when Republicans controlling the Statehouse forced cards that Democrats say put them at a deep disadvantage.
However, State Representative Steven Smith, vice chair of the Redistribution Committee, doesn’t see much change on the horizon.
State laws and court precedents that dictate the number of voters in each House district, geographic boundaries and “simple calculations” limit the changes available to lawmakers this year, he said last week .
“It’s a giant algebraic exercise,” said Smith, R-Charlestown.
There is a lot about the current New Hampshire House map that irritates Smith, a House Deputy Speaker.
Floating districts fly over large swathes of the state with few cultural ties, some communities that share a school district or fire department do not also share one House member, and many cities must share one representative with another. city.
But, Smith said, census figures could hamper attempts to address those issues.
The State Supreme Court, in a 2002 ruling, said that a gap rate – or the difference between populations in electoral districts – of 9% achieves “substantial equality”, which means lawmakers need to keep new districts within that range, Smith said.
He added that the House districts cannot cross county borders, so towns like Tilton and Northfield, which share a fire department and a school district but are divided by the Belknap-Merrimack county line, do cannot have the same representatives of the State. Lawmakers also face a 2006 state constitutional amendment that attempted to divide large districts in general and encourage neighborhoods or towns.
Together, these constraints mean it’s nearly impossible for lawmakers to draw a map that everyone appeals to, according to Paul Mirski, a former Enfield State Representative who spearheaded the country’s latest redistribution effort. State.
“No one will ever be satisfied with a redistribution. It’s sure, ”he said.
Mirski estimated that about 90% of redistributions boil down to math while the remaining 10% are subjective. And whoever is in charge, he said, redrawing maps is a political process.
“Whatever the majority party does, it will,” he said, comparing New Hampshire’s Republican advantages to those of Democrats in Massachusetts and other blue states.
Still, Democrats are calling for the redistribution process to be more inclusive and have already argued that county hearings should be open to those who wish to participate virtually.
Last week, they also said another round of meetings should be scheduled once new maps are released.
“I think the public’s frustration is that there are hearings now, but they don’t plan any more once they have a plan,” said State Representative Sharon Nordgren, D- Hanover.
Nordgren, who has served at the Statehouse since 1988, called the ongoing hearings “lip service.”
“They are doing this to try to make it look like they are taking comments or information,” she said.
The Grafton County Redistribution hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Grafton Superior Court, 3785 Dartmouth College Highway, North Haverhill.
The Sullivan County Forum will be held on October 13 at 6 p.m. at the Claremont Savings Bank Community Center, 52 South St., Claremont.
The meetings were also broadcast live on the New Hampshire House YouTube page.
Tim Camerato can be contacted at [email protected] or 603-727-3223.