Lowcountry district falls, but it was worth the try

Disappointing, but unsurprising, votes Tuesday dashed our hopes for a new Lowcountry congressional district anchored by Beaufort County.

Perhaps it was too much to hope for -- going from the tail end of a Lexington County-dominated district to one in which we were front and center.

In the end, even the plan's biggest proponents -- Sens. Tom Davis of Beaufort County and Larry Grooms of Berkeley County -- voted for the House plan and a new Horry County-centered district.

Davis says his effort to convince House members of the merits of the Lowcountry district was like talking to a brick wall. Reps. Shannon Erickson and Andy Patrick voted for the House plan. (Rep. Bill Herbkersman was not listed in Tuesday's House roll call and was not recorded as voting.)

Senate leaders apparently liked the House version, too. It was an unusual alliance of 10 Senate Republicans that included Davis and Grooms and Senate Democrats that got the Lowcountry district out of the Senate late last month.

The House undid that work Tuesday. By the time the House plan came to the Senate, Davis says, the House had adjourned.

Without an opportunity to reconcile differing House and Senate plans, the issue would have gone to federal court for resolution, and Davis says he didn't want to see that. He called voting for the House plan "a bitter pill," but liked the alternative even less.

The plan goes next to Gov. Nikki Haley. Her spokesman said Tuesday that she would support it.

And it goes to the U.S. Justice Department for review due to the state's history of racial discrimination.

Redistricting in 1992 and 2002 ended up in federal court because the governor and legislature couldn't agree. In 1992, we had a Democratic-controlled legislature and a Republican governor, and in 2002, we had a Republican-controlled legislature and a Democratic governor.

Comments on the issue recorded in the Senate journal centered on who and what was being split where among the state's seven congressional districts. A stated goal of redistricting is to keep together "communities of like interests." But the goal of meeting federal requirements on minority representation and ensuring the election of the kinds of politicians lawmakers wanted to see elected also weighed heavily in the debate over the past two months.

Some saw the Davis-backed district as more likely to elect a conservative to Congress, whatever that might mean in an already conservative state. (Davis pledged that he would not run for Congress from the new district, saying he had more work to do in the state Senate.)

Losing out on a Lowcountry congressional district is the bad news. The good news is that the plan adopted by the legislature puts most of Beaufort County (91 percent of the population) in a coastal district. While that district might be dominated by the metropolitan Charleston area, we do share many interests -- tourism, environmental and development issues and education funding to name a few.

Certainly, we have far more in common with Charleston County than we do with Lexington County.