Gov. Chris Sununu’s proposed congressional district map will get a hearing from the House Redistricting Committee a week from Friday, a move that reportedly “stunned” House Democrats.
And now, having praised the Republican governor for vetoing the GOP redistricting plan, Democrats face the problematic politics of a vote on his proposal.
“The governor put the time and effort and forethought to publicly publish a map that he liked,” committee chair state Rep. Barbara Griffin (R-Goffstown) told NHJournal. “And I want to give him the courtesy and respect of having a public hearing on it.”
The redistricting debate would be over — or at least, would have moved on to the courts — if Sununu had simply signed the congressional map passed by the legislature earlier this year. Instead, he declared the map “didn’t pass the smell test” and pledged a veto, sending the legislature back to the drawing board and some Republicans into a rage.
The GOP-drawn map would have created the only Republican-leaning congressional district in New England. Instead, Sununu took the unusual action of releasing his own map, an unusual move for a governor. It gives Democrats a virtual lock in Congresswoman Annie Kuster’s district (Biden won it by +10.5 percent in 2020) and a “leans Democrat” in Congressman Chris Pappas’ CD-1 (where Biden won by 4.5 percent).
“Sununu’s map is great — if you are a Democrat planning to run in CD1 or CD2,” a Republican familiar with the redistricting process told NHJournal at the time.
Democrats, on the other hand, were delighted. Pappas, who currently represents the First District, praised Sununu’s handling of redistricting. “I couldn’t agree more with Gov. Sununu,” he said.
Now the question is whether Democrats will cross the aisle to help pass a map that, as they demanded, “passes the smell test?”
NHJournal contacted every Democrat on the Redistricting Committee and asked if they were willing to support Sununu’s map when it comes before them next week. They all declined to comment.
If Democrats reject Sununu’s map, it would bolster Republican arguments that they were going to oppose any GOP-drawn map out of pure partisanship and, therefore, Sununu should go ahead and sign the map that has already passed the legislature. Several lawmakers point out that, while Sununu has threatened to veto the maps, he has not actually done so.
But if Democrats support it, they could be handing Sununu a bipartisan victory just months before the midterm election. It would play directly into the governor’s message that he is a leader who is above partisanship.
In fact, the situation is such a problem for Democrats some State House observers have wondered aloud if this was Sununu’s plan all along. Did the governor ask Griffin to schedule a hearing on his map?
“Our committee and I have had no communication from the governor,” Griffin said. “In fact, I’ve had no direct communication from the governor through this entire redistricting process.”
What will Democrats do? One sign came when the progressive “Fair Maps Coalition” said Thursday Sununu’s map was a “step in the right direction” but it is not sold on the plan, the Union-Leader reported. “The newly proposed congressional districts will force thousands more Granite Staters to switch districts than is necessary to achieve fair districts.”
The hearing could turn into a headache for the governor, too, if Republicans use the time to bash the proposal and remind Republican voters Sununu threw their party — and the prospect of a GOP-leaning congressional seat — under the bus.
Griffin says Friday’s hearing is about process, not politics.
“I’m committed to following the process. We’ve passed a congressional map and we’ve received word the governor intends to veto it. So it is the responsibility of the legislature to deliver a map as we are charged to do. So we are going to continue to do our work.”