Beaufort News

Lowcountry could anchor new US House seat

The Lowcountry would help anchor South Carolina's new 7th U.S. Congressional District under a plan being pushed by the state Senate's GOP Caucus.

Because of population growth, the state will gain a U.S. House seat during redistricting -- the decennial process to redraw political lines using new census data.

The process is still in its early stages, and the new proposal would need to clear several hurdles to be implemented. But if it can be done, county residents will win big, according to state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort.

"For too long, Beaufort County has always been the red-headed stepchild of whatever congressional district it's been in," Davis said. "We've been the tail end of a Charleston district. And then in recent history, we've been the tail end of a Lexington district."

Under the caucus's proposal, the 7th District would stretch from Beaufort and Jasper counties northwest to Barnwell County and northeast to capture portions of Georgetown County.

In all, the new district would contain 660,769 people. About half of them would live near Charleston, in Dorchester and Berkeley counties.

But a unified Lowcountry -- including Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton and Colleton counties -- would hold about a third of the district's population. Davis said that would boost the area's political clout in Washington, which could affect everything from highway projects to the proposed Jasper port.

"We might have a little more oomph to get something done on that port down here," said Beaufort County Republican Party Chairman Jerry Hallman.

Conventional wisdom has held that the new 7th District would be drawn near Myrtle Beach, while Beaufort would join the coastal 1st District represented by Tim Scott, R-Charleston. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-West Columbia, who currently represents Beaufort County, would see his district shift away from the coast and become more compact.

The S.C. House's proposal would follow that plan. It's unclear if the Senate will ultimately follow the same track.

Wesley Donehue, political director of the Senate GOP Caucus, said he thinks "there's a very good chance" a variation of the caucus's proposal will be adopted as the Senate's official plan.

Because the 7th District is being created anew, with no incumbent, it will be an open race to fill the seat.

Davis said he hasn't considered whether he would run if the new seat comes to the Lowcountry because he is focused on his work as a state legislator.

But if he did throw his hat into the ring, Hallman said he would have immediate and enthusiastic support.

"If he wanted it, we could rally this whole county behind this guy," Hallman said. "I would vote for Tom Davis for president."