There were a lot of moving parts last week in the political scene in New Hampshire.
The state House of Representatives called a surprise vote to override Gov. John Lynch’s veto of the House’s redistricting plan. The vote caught many off guard, including local municipalities. With the Senate overriding the veto on the redistricting plan as well, the plan becomes law. Reports indicated a legal battle will likely ensue ? New Hampshire hasn’t exactly had a smooth history with redistricting.
The gubernatorial race consolidated on the Republican side with prospective candidate Steve Kenda, a Seacoast businessman, announcing he would not run. That leaves the race, as of this writing, between presumptive frontrunner Ovide Lamontagne and Kevin Smith.
On top of that, lawmakers worked to find votes to override Gov. John Lynch’s promised veto of a medicinal marijuana bill. The Senate ultimately passed the bill, but not by a veto-proof majority.
By the way, the House also voted to outlaw abortion after 20 weeks. So there’s that to consider as well.
Lynch urged the House to take up his veto of the redistricting plan quickly so alternative plans could be brought forward. He got his wish on that. Lynch vetoed the plan on Friday, March 23, and the matter didn’t appear on the House’s schedule last week. But it popped up quickly, all right. The House reportedly overrode Lynch’s veto by eight votes.
Lynch said after he vetoed the House plan that it violated the constitutional principles of equal representation and local representation. Lynch did sign the Senate’s redistricting plan, which makes changes to all but six of the state’s Senate districts, into law last month.
Lynch took issue with how the plan broke up certain cities and towns, picking on the fact that Manchester’s wards 8 and 9 would be combined with Litchfield, a very different community with presumably very different legislative needs.
“It is inconsistent in its treatment of similarly situated towns and wards, and it unnecessarily changes the boundaries of existing districts,” Lynch said in his veto statement.
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, a Republican, was one of many local leaders to be displeased with the surprise vote and the plan itself. Manchester Sens. Lou D’Allesandro, David Boutin and Tom De Blois all voted to sustain the veto. While it was expected that all Manchester lawmakers would vote to sustain the veto, a few Manchester representatives ultimately voted for the override.
House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, said in a statement that the plan returns the state to the type of local representation people had in mind following the passage of the 2006 constitutional amendment. He said it will give representatives a better opportunity to meet and know people in their districts.
Based on the 2010 census, the state has a population of 1,316,470 people. A straight division of the total population and the state’s 400 state representative districts equals an ideal population per district of 3,291 people. Under federal and state law, towns and wards that equal or are within 5 percent of that ideal population are entitled to their own representative. Based on the 2010 census, there are 152 towns and wards in the state that would qualify for their own representative, Lynch said.
Under the House plan, 62 towns and wards would be denied their own seats in the House. Lynch said the towns of Atkinson, Hudson, Meredith and Pelham all have enough people to qualify for their own representative, but are denied their own representative under the House plan.
“This is completely contrary to what the citizens of New Hampshire called for in the state constitutional amendment adopted in 2006,” Lynch said.
But House leadership doesn’t see it that way.
“The Governor’s veto was ill-conceived and purely political,” House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, in a statement. “House Republicans have sent a clear message that if the governor wants to play partisan games with a great redistricting plan, he will get shot down. Our caucus has put forth a redistricting plan that will ensure that our friends and neighbors will elect people in their communities to represent them in the Statehouse. Today, the voters can now be assured they will get people who will be in touch with their communities.”
Kenda jumped onto the political scene earlier this year announcing his interest in exploring a run for governor. He was an unknown commodity politically, and people seemed interested in hearing him out, particularly since Smith and especially Lamontagne have been in the public eye for some time now.
In the end, Kenda opted out.
“I’d like to thank the many people across this state who took the time to meet with me and discuss the challenges we are facing,” Kenda said in a statement. “From Coos to the seacoast, I saw tremendous concern, about the current economy, and about the direction of our future. Where will we be eight years from now? And what part will New Hampshire play in the new economy?
“Realism is a leader’s most basic qualification, and with that in mind, I have explored a run for governor with no illusions about the cost, the odds, the goals, and the rewards. And much as I want to help steer New Hampshire toward a brighter future, I have concluded that doing so this year would be unwise.”
Kenda, who is the CEO of HireAbility, said he will keep his options open and will continue to focus on employment and growth.
His announcement could signal that the race is consolidating around Smith and Lamontagne, or it could open the door for someone else to enter the race, perhaps particularly someone with a strong business background. We’ll see.
Senate yes, but not by enough
The Senate passed a bill that would allow people to cultivate and possess marijuana in limited quantities if they are suffering from debilitating medical conditions. The vote was close, 13-11, which will make it difficult for lawmakers to override Lynch’s expected veto.
Lynch has stood against similar medicinal marijuana bills in the past, vetoing one in 2009. He’s been concerned with potential proliferation, though bill supporters say they’ve addressed those issues. Lynch reportedly doesn’t agree.
If Lynch has a change of heart or if supporters can get a few senators to hop on board, New Hampshire could become the 17th state to legalize medicinal marijuana use with a doctor recommendation. The odds don’t look good on that at the moment, though
The bill goes to the House next. Perhaps a veto-proof majority in the House could persuade a senator or two or three to re-think their votes.