I read with interest the recent article by Karen Dandurant on May 19th regarding HB75, districting for Strafford County Commissioners. This bill would for the first time in 40 years, bring Strafford County into alignment with every other of the nine counties in our state. Currently Strafford County is the only one that does not have districts for the three elected commissioners. We instead elect all "at large" meaning by the entire county.
The article devotes a majority of its space to the remarks and rhetoric of current Commissioner Maglaras (D), Senator David Waters (D) and Senator Donna Soucy (D). Unfortunately, most if not all of their statements are blatantly wrong, and the rest are purely political posturing. Let's explore their comments.
First, Mr. Maglaras states that districting Strafford County at this time is unconstitutional. Not only is it completely constitutional, during my one-on-one conversion with our Secretary of State, I inquired about this specific issue, and David Scanlon assured me it was totally proper.
Next, he states that the decision was made during the recent 2020 redistricting to "leave Strafford County alone" (Watters also makes this claim). That is patently false. The House of Representative's Special Committee on Redistricting, of which I was a member, made the intentional decision to address the issue of Strafford County Commissioners districting after the completion of the decennial redistricting process. Due to Covid, the census numbers needed for redistricting were delayed for almost six months requiring a greatly shortened (and extremely hectic) window for redrawing the state representative, commissioner and US House Rep maps assigned to our House committee. Adding more onto the plate at that time was found to be unnecessary when it could be addressed the following term, as we are now doing.
Lastly, Mr. Maglaras makes the ridiculous statement that it is his belief that all counties should elect their commissioners at large. It's safe to say, that the other nine counties are in disagreement, as none do so and none have suggested otherwise. With 40 years in the commissioner's seat, maybe Mr. Maglaras has become too comfortable in his single-party system.
Senator Soucy, who has no ties to Strafford County, goes on to claim that this was a case of "gerrymandering" (as did Maglaras). Unfortunately, they both toss around the word as so many others have without understanding the definition, which is:
Gerrymander - to manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class.
Strafford County currently has a 58 percent/42 percent Democrat to Republican demography. Under the proposed district map and based on the 2022 voting results, two Democrats and one Republican commissioner would have been elected which happens to approximate the electoral makeup of our county. Contrast this with the fact that for over four decades, the commissioner's offices have been filled by three Democrats in all but one term when a single Republican occupied the office. Therefore, one can easily make the argument and a case based on the definition above, that the way we elect our county commissioners now is gerrymandering. Attaining three Democrat commissioners every term in a county populated by 40 percent Republicans certainly "...favors one party or class".
Senator Watters makes a claim that this is "politicization". In fact, it is abundantly clear the politicization rests solely with the Democrats. Whereas Republicans in our county want to see both the smaller towns and Republican-leaning towns have a voice at the table, the Democrats want those voices to remain stifled. Many who testified at our public hearings, including selectmen from these towns, confirmed it has been this way for decades. Under the proposed districting maps, Strafford County should continue to have at least two Democrat commissioners.
During last term's redistricting, our committee visited every county in person and heard the pleas from those wishing to be heard. Most were Democrats expressing their concerns over "fairness" during a term when Republicans were in control of every legislative body. Fairness would now dictate that Strafford County enjoy the same equity that the other nine counties have when it comes to commissioner districts. Lets be crystal clear here, the pushback on HB75 is solely from Democrat politicians who don't want their chokehold on a currently gerrymandered county, as well as their unilateral authority, challenged.
One final point. Mr. Maglaras mentions in the article he would take this issue to the NH Supreme Court due to his perceived, and incorrect, position that the process is unconstitutional. We hope that he uses his own funds for this threatened challenge and not those of the citizens of Strafford County.
Len Turoctte, R-Barrington, represents Strafford District 4 and serves as chairman of the House Municipal and County Government committee.