House leader predicts quick redistricting session

Upstate, Lowcountry legislators remain unconvinced

gnsmith@thestate.com July 17, 2011 

Legislative leaders say they are close to reaching a deal to draw a new S.C. congressional district in Horry County and the Pee Dee.

The General Assembly is scheduled to return to Columbia on July 26 to vote on the new map.

“We’ve been meeting with a few key members of the Senate to see if there’s something a majority (of lawmakers) can agree on,” said state Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, the key S.C. House player in the once-every-decade effort to redraw political districts. “We believe we’re very close to that. I believe when we go back on the 26th, we won’t be there long, and we’ll come out with a new map.”

But some Upstate and Lowcountry legislators remain to be convinced.

Harrison’s new map varies from a redistricting plan passed by the state Senate. Unlike that plan, the new proposal would, according to Harrison:

• Create a new 7th Congressional District – being added because of the state’s population growth – along the state’s northeastern corner, including the Pee Dee and Horry

• Keep portions of Dorchester and Berkeley counties in the 1st District with Charleston County

• Redraw the Upstate’s 4th District so that about 60 percent of the district’s population is in urban and suburban areas of Greenville County, and about 40 percent is Spartanburg County

Upstate unhappiness

Some Greenville and Spartanburg lawmakers are going to have to be persuaded to agree to the new plan because it would split those counties among the 3rd, 4th and 5th districts.

“In the past, both (Greenville and Spartanburg counties) could be in a (single) congressional district and be whole,” Harrison said. “But they’re grown so that we can’t do that anymore. Convincing those (lawmakers) is the biggest holdout now.”

State Sen. David Thomas, R-Greenville, is one of the holdouts. Thomas introduced a plan on the Senate floor to let Greenville and Spartanburg each anchor its own congressional district. That proposal failed.

Thomas notes Greenville has had the biggest population increase – in terms of raw numbers, as opposed to a percentage increase – of any S.C. county in the past decade. And that’s unlikely to change, he adds.

“In another 10 years (when redistricting occurs again), the Upstate will have grown more, and they’ll split us again,” Thomas predicted. “And that doesn’t benefit Greenville or Spartanburg. Long term, a congressman representing the upper half of Greenville will try to get his industry there and not the lower part.”

Coalition not persuaded

A coalition of Senate Republicans and Democrats who want the new 7th District anchored in Beaufort County, not Horry County, also say they are not backing down.

That coalition prevailed last month, when the Senate passed a redistricting plan, introduced by state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, that anchors the new 7th District in Beaufort.

“I want to do what’s in the best interest of the whole state, but I’m also elected to represent (my district),” said Grooms, whose district includes parts of Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton and Dorchester counties.

Grooms said his plan stops the racial gerrymandering of his state Senate district and also splits fewer counties among congressional districts.

“There aren’t contorted shapes in (the Grooms’) plan,” said state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, a backer of Grooms’ plan. “Keeping as many counties whole as possible makes the most sense. We distribute highway fund and school dollars, economic development money based on county lines.”

The case for Horry

But Harrison says a new Pee Dee district, anchored in Horry, makes the most sense.

Horry has seen more population growth – percentage wise – than any other S.C. county in the past decade and has a strong sense of community with the Pee Dee, he contends.

“The Pee Dee ... makes more sense for a new district than a district that starts around Berkeley and Dorchester, goes through Colleton and down into Beaufort,” Harrison said, critiquing Grooms’ plan. “The Pee Dee is more of a homogeneous part of the state with a commonality of interests.”

State Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Horry, added Horry and the Pee Dee share historic ties.

“The Pee Dee has been seen as a common community of interest since our state’s founding fathers put it together in one district. It remained that way until about 20 years ago, when it was split up by the courts to create a majority-minority district,” Clemmons said, referring to the 1992 creation of the 6th District, a majority African-American district currently represented by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. “It still has many common interests today, including Horry’s tourism and its labor force from the Pee Dee.”

Some have speculated Clemmons also is interested in running for a new Horry-centered congressional seat. “I’m not focused on running for Congress,” he said Friday. “I am focused on creating the most sensible seventh district that can be built in South Carolina.”

Democratic wildcard

While Republicans squabble, Democrats – the minority party in both the House and Senate – are the wildcards in the redistricting battle.

Senate Democrats backed the Grooms-Beaufort plan. But many Democrats really want a panel of three federal judges to draw the new congressional map. (That only can happen if the Senate and House cannot agree to a map or if the resulting map is overturned in court.)

Democrats are hopeful judges would draw a second district that is majority African-American.

“At least the judges would be an independent group looking at the map and seeing what’s best for the state,” said state Sen. John Scott, D-Richland. “Right now, you have (Republican) party interested in what the party wants, not what is best for the state.”

Harrison says creating a second African-American district would be nearly impossible.

“It can’t be done,” Harrison said. “You can’t draw a district that is compact and be a majority-minority district.”

Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.

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