New congressional districts could split Beaufort County

May 21, 2011 

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A new proposal for U.S. congressional districts would split Beaufort County at the Whale Branch River, giving the county's northern and southern residents two different representatives for the next decade.

The map, released Wednesday by the S.C. House of Representatives, is a first attempt at redrawing district lines using 2010 census data. Legislators aren't expected to debate the map on the House floor until June. The state Senate is still drafting its own redistricting plan.

"Who knows the way this thing is going to shake out between now and the time they're actually set in stone," said state Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island. "It's very premature to really get wrapped around the axle by it."

Under the plan, Jasper County and the northern third of Beaufort County would join the 6th Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia.

The southern two-thirds of Beaufort County would join the coastal 1st Congressional District represented by Rep. Tim Scott, R-Charleston.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-West Columbia, who currently represents all of Beaufort County, would shift toward the middle of the state.

PROS AND CONS

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said he doesn't support cutting the county into two districts.

"Under no circumstances do I think it's in our county's best interest to be split like that," Davis said. "Anything that serves to splinter our county into different regions, I'm going to oppose."

State Rep. Ken Hodges, D-Green Pond, who represents portions of the area that would be split off, said he thinks the map was drawn to add minorities to Clyburn's majority black district.

About 68 percent of the 4,269 Beaufort County residents north of the Whale Branch River identify as African-American, according to 2010 census data. Clyburn's district would be 55.9 percent black under the plan.

Hodges described the House proposal as a "workable draft," but he doesn't think splitting Beaufort County makes sense given the small population it siphons off.

"I just can't see the rationale behind it," he said.

Patrick said that while the ideal situation would have all of Beaufort County in one district, he sees an upside to the proposed split.

"Jim Clyburn is one of the most powerful Democrats in the House, so it might be a good thing for Beaufort County," Patrick said.

WHAT'S NEXT?

The S.C. House plan would compact Wilson's 2nd Congressional District, which currently spans Beaufort and Jasper counties, and shift it from the coast. Meanwhile, South Carolina's new 7th Congressional District would be anchored by Horry County.

Republicans expect to win the new district and retain control of the five seats the GOP now holds. Democrats likely would have a lock only on the state's sole majority black district held by Clyburn.

Democrats in the Statehouse said the GOP-controlled plan was not perfect but acknowledged it could be worse.

"We've got a few areas of concern," said House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, as he vowed to try to amend the plan. "Overall, I can't say the whole plan is terrible."

Legislators are scheduled to meet for two weeks in June in an attempt to approve a redistricting plan, which then would go to Gov. Nikki Haley for her approval or veto.

Because of the state's past of discrimination against minority voters, the U.S. Department of Justice also must review and sign off on any plan approved by lawmakers and the governor.

The (Columbia) State contributed to this report.

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