Beaufort News

Proposed congressional redistricting could affect Beaufort County

S.C. lawmakers are hoping to make quick work of redrawing the state's congressional lines, including creating a new 7th District, when they return to Columbia today for a special session.

Legislative leaders in the House and Senate are set on carving out the new 7th Congressional District along the state's northeastern coastline. The district would be anchored in Horry County and include the state's Pee Dee region. But some are fighting for that district to be farther south, anchored by Beaufort County.

A majority of House members are expected to support that plan, similar to a plan they passed previously, Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, said recently. Harrison is heading up the House's redistricting efforts.

It remains to be seen, however, if a majority of the divided state Senate will support the plan.

A final version of the congressional redistricting map was not available Monday, meaning the public and lawmakers first will see it today.

However, lawmakers who have been part of discussions say the map that legislators will get today is very similar to the map the S.C. House approved last month. It centers the new U.S. House district on Horry County but adds some new tweaks in the Greenville-Spartanburg and Charleston areas.

Last month, the Senate approved a very different map, to the chagrin of Senate leadership. A rare coalition of Republicans and Democrats, headed by Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, pushed through an alternate map that placed the new congressional district -- a result of the state's population growth in the past 10 years -- in the Lowcountry, with Beaufort County as its anchor. Grooms has said he will work this week to get his map approved.

However, Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, and Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, have been working behind the scenes with House leaders to build support for an Horry-centered district.

Martin said Monday that it was important that senators be willing to compromise so that the new map is drawn by lawmakers -- not the courts. "We are working to find some middle ground," Martin said. "I'm hopeful that will happen."

If a majority of lawmakers cannot agree to a map, hammering out a compromise could become the work of a conference committee made up of a select group of House members and senators. However, Martin said that is unlikely to result in a compromise because lawmakers still would be forced to pick one of two maps.

"We won't get it done in a conference committee. We need to get it done on the floor," Martin said. "But if it stretches to a second day of debate, I don't think we'll be able to come up with a plan."

That would mean a panel of three federal judges would step in and draw the map.

Some Democrats would prefer that a panel of outside, independent judges draw the maps, thinking that increases the likelihood of the creation of a second congressional district that a Democrat could win.

A Democrat -- Jim Clyburn of Columbia -- now holds only one of the state's six congressional districts.

"Democrats want the process to be fair, and right now it's not," said Phil Bailey, director of the Senate Democratic Caucus. "You've got a hyper-partisan process -- Republican-controlled Senate, Republican-controlled House, Republican in the governor's office who has to sign off on the plan."