Redistricting headache 2012

The Telegraph
December 18, 2011

The House redistricting plan is out, it has grease on its skids and it's likely racing headlong into a veto from four-term Democratic Gov. John Lynch early next year.

House Speaker William O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, already has a strategy for dealing with that, which we'll get into later.

Keep in mind, redrawing the elections map for the 400-member House is the hardest cartography assignment in the country.

Only one other state is forced to use floterial districts – the excess number of inhabitants of districts that are joined to form other districts.

The House GOP plan has 49 of these unique animals, which it's important to note that the state Supreme Court upheld as constitutional.

What upsets many – some on the right, many more on the left – is how this plan ignores the principle of the amendment to the state Constitution that voters approved in 2006.

In a nutshell, by a 70 percent margin, the voters embraced language that said if your town had at least 3,291 people, you were entitled to a legislator.

The problem is that this plan falls far short of that ideal, with 55 towns big enough to be on their own but having to share seats with neighboring towns.

House Legal Counsel Ed Mosca explained that state and federal court rulings have stressed the one-man, one-vote principle trumps state law and Constitution.

But this plan hardly translates into mathematical purity. Its deviation from the ideal population statewide is 9.9 percent, a hair under the 10 percent barometer when redistricting legal experts say could cause a state to lose a challenge to its map.

Here are the towns that are big enough but don't make their own House seat cut in the plan:

Belknap County: Belmont, Gilmanton, Gilford, Meredith, Tilton.

Carroll County: Moultonboro, Ossipee, Wakefield.

Cheshire County: Chesterfield, Hinsdale, Jaffrey, Rindge, Swanzey.

Coos County: Lancaster.

Grafton County: Canaan, Hanover, Haverhill, Littleton, Plymouth.

Hillsborough County: Brookline, Hillsborough, Hudson, Pelham, Weare, Wilton, New Boston, New Ipswich.

Merrimack County: Boscawen, Bow, Epsom, Franklin, Henniker, Hopkinton, Loudon, New London, Northfield, Pembroke, Pittsfield.

Rockingham County: Atkinson, Auburn, Candia, Chester, Deerfield, Greenland, Hampstead, Kingston, Newmarket, Nottingham, Plaistow, Rye, Sandown, Seabrook.

Strafford County: Durham, Milton, Strafford.

Sullivan County: Newport, Sunapee.

Numbers battle

Don't make the mistake of assuming that the goal in the House GOP plan is solely to make the Republicans stronger and the minority Democrats weaker.

To be sure, that's done in several ways in this plan, principally by carving up parts of Manchester, Concord, Laconia, Keene and Franklin with surrounding towns.

Canterbury GOP Rep. Seth Cohn defends putting Concord's Ward 5 – the home of former House Majority Leader Mary Jane Wallner – in with Hopkinton.

It's also done by selectively picking and choosing those towns big enough to get their own reps compared with those that don't.

Alton, Hollis, Exeter, Stratham, Newton, Weare, Milford, Amherst and Litchfield all get their own seats; they'll elect Republicans.

Durham, Hanover, New Ipswich and Pelham don't; they'd be much more likely to pick Democrats.

But let's look at how the plan favors the "right" Republican incumbents and makes it tougher for more moderate GOP members to prevail next year

Belknap County: Belmont Rep. Jim Pilliod and Gilford Rep. Alida Millham are saddled with bigger communities than their hometowns; Pilliod gets part of Laconia, Millham gets Meredith.

Alton Rep. Peter Bolster, who opposed right to work, now battles it out for one of two seats from his town when three from the town now serve in the House.

Rockingham County: Stratham Rep. Tim Copeland was the dissident to leadership at times in his group and now has to scramble, as four incumbents must run for only three seats.

Londonderry Reps. Betsy McKinney and Karen Hutchinson also went off the reservation on right to work, and they come from a town that had a nine-seat district shrink to seven.

Merrimack County: It sure looks as if the going got tougher for moderate Canterbury GOP Rep. Priscilla Lockwood, who now competes in a district that includes the larger Loudon.

Insurance battle

Bar none, the biggest health provider contract in state history will soon be awarded, and it's turning into a battle royal among the state's best lobbyists.

This is the three-phase program to convert Medicaid from a fee-for-service into a managed-care insurance plan.

State budget writers are counting on this to save $16 million in state dollars over the two-year spending cycle.

Fifteen companies took out requests for proposals and they were all due in by the end of last week.

There are said to be fewer than six eligible competitors, and state laws spell out that at least two companies will be chosen to give choice to Medicaid recipients.

Here's a tale of the lobbyist tape for the mega-vendors:

Anthem (Wellpoint is its managed-care vendor): David Collins is in the lobby shop of former Attorney General Tom Rath.

Centeene: One of the largest players in the country and the holder of the Massachusetts Medicaid model is represented by Democratic political operative Jim Demers, a former state representative.

Aetna: Former Senate President Edward Dupont heads up this team.

AmeriGroup: The lobbyist group that Concord lawyer Jim Bianco leads represents this company, and although it's a national leader, it may opt to not go forward with a proposal.

United Health Care: Former Democratic gubernatorial aide and venerable lobbyist Dick Bouley represents United.

The key question for state officials is whether the $16 million in savings on which GOP legislative leaders are counting can be obtained by this first phase of the program that focuses on health care for the poor. Vendors have already been told they have to use the formulary the state employs for its prescription drugs, so there might not be much money squeezed out there.

The real cash savings comes from senior citizens and those in mental health programs, both of which will be rolled out later.

Let it be known

The worst-kept secret in primary politics will come out in the open Wednesday when O'Brien joins his Iowa counterpart in endorsing former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich's presidential candidacy.

Mitt Romney was never in the running.

O'Brien was one of the most full-throated opponents in any state legislature against the Obama health care plan, so how could he possibly endorse the author of "Romney Care" that people on the left and the right agree was the precursor for the national debate.

No, this isn't a story about Gingrich; it's a story about Rick Perry and how badly he blew this one.

O'Brien wasn't wired to go with Perry, but all the signs were there, and they were dead green for it to happen. Deputy Speaker Pam Tucker, R-Greenland, endorses Perry; House Majority Whip Peter Silva, R-Nashua, endorses Perry.

During his first trip, Perry gave O'Brien a chauffeured private drive from the site of his opening event to the overnight hotel.

O'Brien gave Perry a prime spot among the candidates who spoke to the House and Perry obliged, making a three-day lobbying fest for the Right to Work bill fight that was so important to the House leader.

But Perry dropped the ball not once, but multiple times: disappointing debate performances; serial gaffes, from referring to New Hampshire's "first caucus" and the "21-year-old voting age"; to "eight Supreme Court justices" and being unable to name Elena Kagan.

Gingrich is the perfect fallback; he's the only one who received two invitations to speak to the House, and he and O'Brien are simpatico; both are smart, aggressive, confrontational, determined fighters on the policy front.

Not exactly buddies

So, you think it's let bygones be bygones when it comes to how Derry TV station owner Bill Binnie, a 2010 Senate candidate, feels about GOP gubernatorial candidate Kevin Smith, of Litchfield?

Smith ran Cornerstone Action N.H. and played a leading role in the nuking of Binnie's candidacy with ads that dubbed him "shockingly liberal."

The Political Hotline did a recent article on Smith's decision in this 2012 race to downplay social issues even though he fully intends to continue supporting the repeal of the same-sex marriage law if he's elected.

There's one of Binnie's children, Dylan, in the comment sections right below the article with a simple five-word assessment of Smith the candidate.

"Kevin Smith is a pig," Dylan Binnie writes.

Opposing views

Sometimes it's hard to believe these two Republican members of Congress represent the same state.

Consider how 1st District Rep. Frank Guinta and 2nd District Rep. Charles Bass viewed the federal spending bill the House overwhelmingly passed on Friday.

Here's Bass: "I'm pleased we've come to a bipartisan agreement on the last remaining appropriations bills to fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2012 and prevent a government shutdown."

He added, "It's a start in making the tough but necessary choices to rein in spending while meeting our nation's needs."

But here's Guinta: "Americans simply can't afford the high price tag that accompanies this bill. While there are several provisions in it that I strongly support – and have voted for in the past – the overall spending level was just too high. Granite Staters want a return to fiscal responsibility, and this bill failed to do that.''