Beaufort News

SC lawmakers approve new 7th congressional district anchored in Horry County

COLUMBIA -- State lawmakers Tuesday approved the outline of a new 7th Congressional District for South Carolina that is anchored in Horry County and includes the Pee Dee region.

Competing plans had pitted Horry against Beaufort County as the anchor for the new district, created because of the state's population growth over the past decade.

However, renegade Republican state senators who had pushed a Beaufort-centered district surrendered Tuesday, endorsing the Horry district in a move they hope will keep federal judges from drawing the new district.

Gov. Nikki Haley will sign off on the new district, her spokesman said Tuesday. However, because of South Carolina's history of racial discrimination, the new lines for all of the state's congressional and legislative districts also must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department.

Lawmakers are required to redraw the state's political districts every decade using new census data. Where to locate the state's new congressional district had fueled a legislative fire that burned for months as lawmakers offered up various plans to give their parts of the state more political power.

The new Horry-anchored district does not please all lawmakers -- particularly the onetime coalition of Republican and Democratic senators who wanted the new district anchored in Beaufort.

However, an Horry-anchored district -- favored by the Republican leaders of the House and Senate -- is the best compromise lawmakers could make, Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, said Tuesday.

The Senate approved the Horry district by a 24-16 vote that went largely along party lines -- with Republicans favoring and Democrats opposing. Earlier Tuesday, the House had passed the Horry-anchored district by a 75-33 party-line vote.

Senate opponents unsuccessfully argued Horry has so many more people than the seven other counties in the new district will be forgotten by the congressperson who represents the district.

"There rural districts will be eaten up by Horry County," said state Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington.

The plan passed because a Senate coalition that formed last month -- between rebel Republicans and Democrats -- fell apart before Tuesday's vote. That group previously had passed a plan to draw the new district in the Lowcountry with Beaufort as its anchor.

But the coalition's most vocal backers, Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, and Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, backed down Tuesday and voted for the Horry plan, saying they feared allowing a federal court to draw a new district, which would have happened if legislators failed to adopt a plan.

"I'm not willing to roll the dice and let the federal district court draw the lines for us," Davis said. "A bitter pill but I have to swallow it."

Davis said he tried to persuade members of the House on Tuesday to back the Beaufort-centered plan but couldn't get enough support.

Davis said part of the difficulty was that Horry-area residents were united and organized. About 150 people from the Pee Dee region came Tuesday to Columbia to argue their area should anchor the new 7th District, he said.

In contrast, some Beaufort-area residents argued the Lowcountry would be better off in a Charleston-based district.

"We didn't have the cohesion in Beaufort County in regard to getting behind the Senate plan that the Horry County region had in getting behind the House plan," Davis said.

Still, the maps are expected to be challenged in court. Dick Harpootlian, chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party, already has said he is likely to sue.

Staff writer Kyle Peterson contributed to this report.