By Kevin Landrigan
Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bipartisan bill Friday to create an independent commission proposed to come up with the best way to redraw legislative, congressional and Executive Council districts after the 2020 elections.
Sununu said the measure was well-intentioned but would have an "unaccountable" commission drawing these lines after they were picked by "party bosses."
"The members of the commission proposed by House Bill 706 would be unelected and unaccountable to the voters. New Hampshire citizens put their trust in elected officials when they cast a ballot for them," Sununu wrote in his veto message. "Legislators should not abrogate their responsibility to the voters and delegate authority to an unelected and unaccountable commission selected by political party bosses."
State Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, had worked with the nonpartisan Brennan Center to create this commission that would be the first time a state Legislature had created one.
The commissions adopted in eight other states had come from voter referendum, she said.
There are 21 states that have some nonpartisan process but only the eight with commissions, and Michigan is the most eastern state with one in the country right now.
"This is just wrong, absolutely wrong, and I can't imagine why the governor would turn his back on the voters this way," Smith said during a telephone interview. "This is a loss, a real loss for the people of this state."
This plan would allow lawmakers to vote on redistricting maps but would keep them out of the process of drawing them.
Instead, maps would be created by a 15-member commission selected from a pool of applicants collected by the secretary of state. No commission member could have been an elected official or have been a lobbyist in the preceding 10 years.
The State Senate had passed this compromise on a voice vote, but House Republican Leader Dick Hinch of Merrimack became a vocal opponent and warned House GOP members they would put their own reelection at risk if they went along with the measure.
"Only the House minority leader and Governor Sununu worked to keep their party's best interest above the best interest of Granite Staters. Today the governor chose to ignore the bipartisan action of the Legislature and deny voters the right to choose who they would like to vote for, and he should be ashamed of himself for doing so," Smith said.
Senate Election Laws Committee Chairman Melanie Levesque, D-Brookline, said it was one of the most significant bills in the state's history.
"It is deeply discouraging that with one fell swoop Governor Sununu blocked vital work to take partisanship out of the political process of choosing legislative districts," Levesque said. "In my district and at the State House, I hear calls for fairer elections every day. Not one person testified against HB 706 at the Senate hearing. It is clear New Hampshire voters are fed up with the status quo in which politicians pick their voters."
Sen. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, had authored a similar bill.
"I hope my colleagues will once again join together to override Governor Sununu's veto of HB 706," Chandley said.
In his veto message, however, Sununu pointed to one liberal group lobbying for this change, America Votes, and charged it had a partisan agenda.
"The partisan out-of-state organization pushing for this legislation states that its mission is to "favorably position Democrats for the redistricting process,'" Sununu said. "This is very concerning and undermines House Bill 706's stated goal of creating 'fair' electoral districts."
America Votes State Director Kate Corriveau condemned Sununu's veto in a statement late Friday.
"This veto is simply indefensible. Leaders from both parties came together to craft a bipartisan plan to take the power of drawing our maps out of the politician's hands and return power back to the people of New Hampshire," Corriveau said.
"Instead, Governor Sununu has chosen to place party politics above strengthening our democracy with fair elections. Unlike Governor Sununu, we believe that the voters should pick their politicians and not the other way around."
(c)2019 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)