There has been a lot of political drama over the redistricting of the New Hampshire House in the past few days: the content of the plan, the governor's veto, the House's decision to vote on overriding that veto without notice, the threat from Democrats that the matter could wind up in court.
What's lost in all this: Republican House Speaker Bill O'Brien's thinking on drawing House districts isn't particularly different from Democratic Gov. John Lynch's. Or at least it wasn't before he became leader of the House.
House members didn't have the traditional benefit of a copy of the governor's veto message in their printed calendars before voting to override that veto. If they had, they would have noted that he cited a 2006 constitutional amendment that said towns and city wards with large enough populations should each have their own House member, or members. Lynch wrote:
"House Bill 592 denies a total of 62 New Hampshire towns and wards their own seats in the House. For example, the towns of Atkinson, Hudson, Meredith and Pelham all have sufficient population under state and federal constitutional standards to have their own representative, but all are denied their own representative under the House-approved plan. This is completely contrary to what the citizens of New Hampshire called for in the state constitutional amendment adopted in 2006."
Among the other places with a big enough population for its own state representative: Ward 5 in Concord, which has been lumped in with Hopkinton under the new plan.
O'Brien and his House majority apparently didn't buy the governor's concerns. But those concerns sound mighty similar to O'Brien's own argument just a few years previous.
Back in 2008, O'Brien was the lawyer for the New Hampshire Legal Rights Foundation which sued on behalf of several communities and their representatives. He argued that the 2006 amendment made several existing districts unconstitutional and asked that redistricting begin early. For instance, he argued, Loudon was big enough to have its own state representative but was instead lumped into a district with Andover, Boscawen, Canterbury and Salisbury - and none of their state representatives lived in Loudon.
Here's how O'Brien's 2008 petition to the court started: "The New Hampshire House of Representatives is the fourth-largest English-speaking legislative body in the world. The primary reason for its size is the historical New Hampshire principle that each and every community, no matter how small, should have the right to elect their representatives from within the town."
Here's how Lynch this year described his concerns about the House's new redistricting plan: "One of the unique advantages to living in New Hampshire is the ability of citizens to encounter his or her state representative in their daily activities - at the grocery store, in a house of worship, or walking main street. HB 592 undermines that very special quality of life in New Hampshire and the critical component of representative local democracy that is expressed in a commonality of interest among a community's citizens."
The O'Brien of 2008 might have agreed with Lynch's assessment. He might have concurred that the new redistricting plan unfairly disenfranchises dozens of communities.
But the O'Brien of 2012 somehow rejects that. Could it be that he's suddenly more interested in partisan politics than looking out for individual communities?
There were acceptable House redistricting alternatives this year, drawn by Republicans, that would have allowed the state to honor both the state and U.S. constitutions. And there were surely ways to avoid the quick, surprise vote on redistricting.
In other words, lawmakers could have risen above this predictable, tiresome partisan game. Instead, their efforts will no doubt land them in court, where they have no control over the outcome. Disappointing indeed.
Read the editorial here: