State Watch

New Hampshire governor pledges to veto US House maps

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) on Thursday reiterated his pledge to veto new congressional district maps, just minutes after the state Senate gave final approval to a proposal that has roiled Concord for months.

As recently as last week, Sununu had publicly urged the state Senate to make amendments to a House-passed map that would have created one solidly Democratic district and one that would likely elect a Republican. But the Senate defeated proposed amendments to the map, defying Sununu’s wishes.

Sununu said he would not sign the legislature’s proposal.

“The proposed Congressional redistricting map is not in the best interest of New Hampshire and I will veto it as soon as it reaches my desk. The citizens of this state are counting on us to do better,” Sununu said in a statement Thursday.

The dispute between a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature stands out in a redistricting process that is usually marked by partisan bickering.

Sununu has sided with redistricting reform groups who say the legislature’s proposals unnecessarily break up communities of interest and reduce competition in two districts that have a history of electing both Republicans and Democrats — even if Democrats have been on a recent winning streak.

The map lines, approved on a party-line vote in the state House and with only a single Republican defector in the state Senate, would represent the biggest change to the way the Granite State elects its representatives in more than a century.

Until several Supreme Court cases in the 1960s, New Hampshire went 80 years without redrawing its congressional district maps. In the decades since, the lines have been largely static: The 1st District includes Manchester, the state’s largest city, and communities along the eastern border with Maine. The 2nd District includes Nashua and Concord, the capital, and runs north through the White Mountains to the Canadian border.

Both districts have been hotly contested in recent decades. In the last 30 elections, dating back to the 1960s, Republicans have won the 1st District 18 times and the 2nd District 21 times. More recently, Democrats have won the 1st District in six of the past eight elections, and the 2nd District in seven of those eight elections.

Reps. Chris Pappas (D) and Ann McLane Kuster (D) won reelection in 2020, when President Biden carried their districts with 52 percent and 53 percent, respectively. Former President Trump carried Pappas’s slightly more conservative 1st District by a 48 percent to 47 percent margin in 2016.

The new boundaries proposed by the legislature would move several more conservative towns into Pappas’s Concord- and Nashua-based 1st District. The result, according to calculations made by one redistricting expert, would put Pappas in a district that Trump would have carried by a 50 percent to 48 percent margin in 2020.

A separate Democratic proposal, shot down in the legislature, would have made only cosmetic changes to the two districts to bring their populations roughly in line.

New Hampshire is one of only five states that has yet to finalize new maps for U.S. House districts. It is also the smallest still on the board. The others — Missouri, Ohio, Florida and Louisiana — all have many more representatives in Washington.

Pappas already faces a difficult reelection challenge later this year, and several prominent Republicans are running for the right to challenge him. Matt Mowers, a former advisor in Trump’s White House who lost to Pappas in 2020, is running again; so is Gail Huff Brown, a former television news reporter and the wife of former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who served as Trump’s ambassador to New Zealand. State Rep. Tim Baxter (R) and Karoline Leavitt (R), another veteran of Trump’s White House, are also running.

Some Republicans in New Hampshire believe Sununu’s insistence on keeping the two seats largely the way they are reflects his belief that the GOP can win both seats in a good year. Sununu helped recruit Jeff Cozzens (R), a craft brewery owner whom local Republicans see as a strong candidate, to challenge Kuster.

Cozzens faces state Sen. Harold French (R), state Rep. Jeffrey Greeson (R) and Robert Burns, a former elected official in Manchester, in the Sept. 13 primary.

Though redistricting reform advocates defend the districts as drawn today, their initial shapes reflect the legacy of discrimination. In other states, discrimination through redistricting has sought to deny racial and ethnic minorities the right to elect a member of Congress who looks like them; in New Hampshire, one of the whitest states in the nation, the lines were initially drawn to split Manchester and Nashua, two cities with substantial Catholic populations, in order to deny Catholics the opportunity to elect one of their own.

Anti-Catholic bias is no longer a concern; the last Republican to hold the 1st District, former Rep. Frank Guinta (R), is Roman Catholic. But both Democratic and Republican map proposals still split Manchester and Nashua, the state’s two largest cities.

Tags Chris Pappas Chris Sununu Donald Trump Joe Biden New Hampshire Redistricting

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