The national census was taken last year as required by Article I, section 2 (Apportionment of Representatives and direct taxes, census) of our United States Constitution. Among the great gifts from our founders is the once-a-decade requirement to conduct a census which provides us with vital demographic information going back to the first census in 1790.
The same section of the federal constitution requires state legislatures to reapportion congressional seats every 10 years based on information gained through the census. The New Hampshire constitution has the legislature do the same for executive councilor, state senate and house districts.
This month a special House committee is travelling around the state, county by county, to seek information from the public on how new House districts should be drawn to produce constitutionally appropriate districts meeting as close as possible the goal of "one man, one vote."
For the State Senate, the Internal Affairs Committee will have a bill later this year that will provide for new lines to divide up the state’s 24 senate districts.
Here is how the 8th State Senate district measures up today with the new census figures:
Between 2000 and 2010, the state’s population grew by 80,684 people or 6.5 percent. The number of people who live in the 8th Senatorial district went from 50,865 to 54,222 for a net gain of 3,357 or 6.6 percent.
The critically important fact here is that the 8th Senatorial district grew at almost the exact pace as the state’s population. That means from a statistical standpoint no changes are needed to have the district be proportional or nearly equal in population to the perfect number of people per district of 54,853. That "ideal" number of 54,853 comes from dividing the 24 senate seats into the state’s new population of 1,316,470
There is a reality, of course, as other districts gained or lost population to such a degree that they either need to shed people or gain people to even out the districts. To do that, some adjustments to the 8th district may be necessary to have the state constitutionally compliant.
The population numbers do confirm what I often say about the 8th district. With 20 towns and the City of Claremont, parts of Sullivan, Merrimack and Cheshire counties, the district is a microcosm of New Hampshire in terms of property values, family income, job numbers and many other factors. Now we know the population of the area grew at the same rate as the state’s population for the last decade.
State legislative elections have consequences. The most significant elections are often the last elections of a decade because the newly elected majorities in the House and Senate manage the redistricting process. And redistricting is political and the majorities, whichever party is in charge, are looking to protect and add to their numbers.
The term "gerrymandering" is named after Elbridge Gerry, Governor of Massachusetts, who signed a state senate redistricting bill in 1812 that gave an electoral advantage to his Republican Democrat party. One district was characterized as shaped like a salamander. Gerry went on to be Vice President under James Madison dying in office in 1814. While the term gerrymandering is often used negatively, the history of legislative majorities seeking to maximize their opportunities to stay in the majority goes back 200 years.
Ten years ago the State Senate and House redistricting bills were found unconstitutional and in the end the elections of 2002 were run in districts created by the Supreme Court. The court ruled, soon after, that the legislature still had one opportunity each decade to do its own redistricting plans. The result for the 8th district was that five towns were taken out and four new towns added, beginning with the 2004 election.
In the next few months, those with a stake in the elections or those who follow such matters will see plenty of action as the legislature adjusts district lines for the 2012 elections and the rest of the next decade.
While the state grew by 6.6 percent over the last decade, some towns in the 8th district saw double digit population gains. Stoddard grew by 32.8 percent, Washington by 25.5 percent, Newbury by 21.7 percent, Sutton by 19 percent, Langdon by 17.4 percent and Sunapee by 10.1 percent. My home town, Lempster, also had surprising growth of 18.8 percent.
Percentage wise, Sullivan and Roxbury were the biggest losers of population. Sullivan was down 9.2 percent, Roxbury was down 3.4 percent and Marlow and Alstead combined lost 12 people for a statistical breakeven. Claremont with 13,355 people is the largest community in the district gaining 204 people for a 1.6 percent increase in population.
Congratulations to the management team and their local business partners at the Common Man Inn and Restaurant in Claremont. They rolled out their new Sugar River Room event facility on Saturday with a day-long "A Taste of What’s to Come" reception. The room offers beautiful views of the river and the food preparation and service overseen by the CMan’s new chef, Joe Bean, who has just moved here from a prominent restaurant in Portland, Maine, was terrific.
Together, the local sponsors including North Country Smokehouse, Stone Arch Bakery, Black River Produce and Vermont Cheesecakes evidence the diverse and high quality food offerings produced right here in our neighborhood.
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