House approves redistricting plans, Dems plan to sue

Plan going to Senate soon creates state’s seventh congressional district centered in Horry County

06/15/2011 12:00 AM

03/02/2012 8:00 AM

The state House of Representatives signed off on a plan Tuesday to redraw its legislative lines and create a seventh congressional district, centered in Horry County and running along the North Carolina border.

The plan requires one more perfunctory vote before heading to the Senate.

But some are disappointed with the plan, including the state Democratic Party, whose chairman plans to sue.

The plan House members approved:

• Creates two new S.C. House districts in Georgetown and Richland counties that are “majority minority,” meaning the majority of voters in the districts are racial minorities. In the Midlands, the plan affects Rep. Mia Butler Garrick, D-Richland, whose District 79 currently is made up of Northeast Richland County and a slice of Kershaw County. The plan approved places all of Butler’s district in Richland County. An amendment to retain more white voters in the district, proposed by Garrick, was voted down Tuesday.

• Eliminates one majority minority district in Charleston County — represented by Rep. Robert Brown, a Democrat — because it has lost African-American population. Under the new plan approved by the House, the state would have 30 majority minority districts, instead of the current 29.

• Merges districts with shrinking population in Laurens, Greenville, Pickens, Anderson, Colleton and Jasper counties.

• Creates four new districts in the growing counties of Beaufort, York, Horry and Berkeley.

“We did our best to keep cities, towns and counties whole and be fair to all House members,” said Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, who oversaw the House’s efforts to redraw the district lines — a task that must be performed every 10 years using the latest census data reflecting how the state’s population has shifted.

The House plan draws eight legislators into four districts, pitting them against each other in primaries next year. The eight are four Democrats and four Republicans.

“This plan is fair,” said Rep. Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, the House’s minority leader. “It’s not perfect, and we’ve got a few Democrats who find themselves in collapsed districts. But there’s an equal number of Republicans who find themselves in the same situation.”

One of those Democrats is Rep. Denny Neilson of Darlington County, the House’s longest-serving member. Under the new plan, Neilson would have to run against her fellow incumbent and Democrat, Rep. Robert Williams.

“No one wants to run against an incumbent. Plus, Robert is my friend,” said Neilson, who has been in the House since 1984 and plans to seek reelection. “But the Pee Dee has lost population. It’s part of the process. I understand.”

Dick Harpootlian, chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party, said the party or a group of Democrats will challenge the proposed new maps in court, contending they create too many majority minority districts.

The gist of the lawsuit, he said, would be to encourage the U.S. Justice Department to approve a S.C. plan that moves African-American voters out of majority-black districts to other districts, giving them more sway over who is elected.

Democrats long have contended that Republicans try to put as many reliably Democratic, minority voters as possible in districts, seeking to ensure that other districts are overwhelmingly white and more likely to elect a Republican. Districts with a mix of races are more likely to elect a Democrat, Democrats contend.

“The Republicans are conducting a concerted effort to re-segregate our state,” Harpootlian said, contending majority minority districts are a dated notion no longer needed. “It was a remedial measure that was very much needed because, back then, white people wouldn’t vote for black people. That’s not the case anymore.”

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