Beaufort News

New state legislative districts take shape

Beaufort County's chance of anchoring South Carolina's new 7th U.S. Congressional district just improved.

The S.C. Senate Judiciary Committee released two redistricting plans Friday, one of which would place Beaufort County at the southern apex of a roughly triangular 7th District.

The other plan would center the 7th District on Horry County, while Beaufort and Jasper counties would remain in District 2 with U.S Rep. Joe Wilson, R-West Columbia.

State senators will begin discussing the options this week.

The Senate's proposal must then be reconciled with a map advanced by the S.C. House, in which Beaufort County would join District 1, held by U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, R-Charleston.

To see maps for all three possibilities, go to reporter Kyle Peterson's blog at blogs.islandpacket.com/eyeonbeaufortcounty.

Plans for new state House and Senate districts still need several rounds of approval, but local legislators say what you see now is probably what you'll get.

Every 10 years, legislators haggle to redraw political lines based on new census data. The state House approved a plan for its own districts last week, and the Senate followed suit a day later.

The chambers must now vote on each other's plans, but that's essentially a formality, said state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. The House and Senate generally choose "not to dispute what the other chamber has done with its own districts," he said.

Because of that agreement, Davis and state Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, both said the district maps in circulation today are probably what will be implemented.

Those plans hold several changes for Beaufort County.

A new Charleston-based state senator would represent parts of northern Beaufort County, including the town of Port Royal, Lady's Island and St. Helena Island.

A new House district would be created in Bluffton to represent a portion of that area's increased population.

Additionally, Senate and House seats would straddle the Beaufort-Jasper county line. Herbkersman's district would reach into Hardeeville.

"We're moving in the same direction regionally, and I think it's an exciting time to be able to coordinate things with Jasper County," Herbkersman said.

That said, the plans could still get vetoed by Gov. Nikki Haley or tangled up in lawsuits or U.S. Department of Justice approval.

One such lawsuit has already been threatened.

Dick Harpootlian, chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party, said last week the party might challenge the proposed S.C. House maps in court. Democrats say Republicans are trying to compact black voters into too few districts to ensure that other districts are more likely to elect a Republican.

The (Columbia) State contributed to this report. Follow staff writer Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

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