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Community : Top Stories Last Updated: Jul 20, 2011 - 8:37:30 AM

Two perspectives on Redistricting
Jul 20, 2011 - 8:31:36 AM

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Senator Larry Grooms

The General Assembly recessed last week, the Senate ending its deliberations on the once-per-decade question of redistricting. South Carolina’s population growth means that we gain a new, seventh Congressional seat.

The debate centered on two plans. The first plan drew the 7th District to include Horry County and much of the Pee Dee. However, the 6th District, represented by Congressman Jim Clyburn, meandered from the farms of Blythewood in northern Richland County some 130 miles to the Charleston Peninsula, and more than 150 miles from the Sumter-Florence line to the Georgia-South Carolina border at the Savannah River.

That plan split Charleston County. It split Berkeley. It split Dorchester, Colleton, and Beaufort. It split at least six more counties, dividing many along racial lines.

In contrast, the plan I presented keeps all of Berkeley, Dorchester, Colleton, Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, Allendale and Barnwell counties whole, within the 7th. Charleston and Horry remain anchors of the 1st District and are not split. Coastal Georgetown remains in the 1st while its inland areas join Williamsburg in the 7th.

Daniel Island, Goose Creek, Moncks Corner, Summerville, Walterboro, Ridgeville, St. Stephen, St. George -- these towns are growing. They can emerge from Charleston’s shadow and have their own representative in Congress. Beaufort’s sizeable population will have significant influence. And because of the size and significance of the Charleston metro area, which extends into Berkeley and Dorchester, Charleston effectively could have two voices in Congress

Communities of interest -- where people live, work, shop, worship -- are kept whole wherever possible. County and city boundaries are generally protected. Racial gerrymandering is avoided, while we are careful not to dilute minority voting strength. Common geography, transportation, and communication are accounted for to ensure more compact districts. Statewide, just eight counties are split.

Sadly, the plan has been rebuked by some in my own party who seem to prefer racially fractured counties. Some even insinuate that the plan is part of a conspiracy designed to aid Democrats. Why would I do that? I am one of the most consistently conservative Republicans in the General Assembly.

What it is, is a conservative, commonsense plan. It was carefully drawn, in part by a well-respected, nationally-known Republican demographer. Democrats knew this, and initially balked at supporting it. However, with a few changes, we were able to craft a plan that both sides could support. The plan has such broad support that not only did Democrats and Republicans back it, Senators from 44 of our 46 county delegations voted for it.

It’s revealing that, with one or two exceptions, those who voted against the plan are moderate and liberal Republicans. They fought our commonsense plan because it brought to light the flaws in their gerrymandered, parochial plan.

These senators, and many in the South Carolina House, will continue to fight our plan and hope to change it later this summer. They say that their plan stands a better chance in any court challenge. The truth is the map we passed on June 29 is the better one. It needs only a vote of the House to become law.

A quick glance at the maps shows that ours is the commonsense plan. It recognizes communities of interest, avoids racial gerrymandering, minimizes county splits, and has broad, bipartisan support. 

(Grooms R-Bonneau, is a small business owner. He represents District 37, which includes portions of Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton and Dorchester counties.)

Glenn F. McConnell

On June 29, 2011 the Democrat Caucus of the South Carolina Senate joined with a small group of ten Republican Senators to pass a misguided Congressional Redistricting plan that would do long term damage to the Tri-County area’s representation on South Carolina’s Congressional delegation. This plan, which also disregards the testimony of citizens expressed in eleven public hearings across the State, must be stopped if there is to be any chance for our elected officials are to pass a plan instead of turning that task over to the federal courts. More importantly, I believe that plan must be passed for the sake of our region’s long-term economic development and to continue the successes we have already accomplished. For decades our Tri-County area that has shared everything from an economic alliance to a Council of Governments, has been the nucleus of the First Congressional District.

The Senate Democrat Caucus supported plan, as proposed by Senator Larry Grooms, would split Charleston County completely from its neighbors in Berkley and Dorchester counties. Berkeley and Dorchester counties would be placed in the new Seventh Congressional District with Beaufort, Colleton, Jasper, Hampton, Allendale, Barnwell, Bamberg, Williamsburg and inland Georgetown County, while Charleston County would remain in the First District paired with Horry County and the coastal half of Georgetown County, including Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand. Consequently, the Tri-County area would be split into two different districts and would be forced to vie for electoral influence with both ends of the coast. Far from being a "common sense plan", as touted by its sponsors, the plan represents a course for political ambitions rather than a road map for future socio-economic success for the Tri-County area.

The 2010 Census, gives the suburban Tri-County area a chance to be mostly united in the First Congressional District along with suburban Beaufort to the south and the coastal islands. Instead, the map pushed by proponents of the new Grooms Seventh District would dilute the Tri-County area’s clout in the First District in favor of other areas of the State. Under the "Beaufort Plan," Congressman Tim Scott would no longer represent any of Berkley or Dorchester counties, and Congressman Jim Clyburn would no longer have any constituents in the Tri-County region. I can’t help but ask why we, as residents of the Tri-County region, would do this to ourselves. 

Presently more than 75% of the residents of Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties live in the First Congressional District, represented by Congressman Scott. The remaining population of these three counties resides in the Sixth Congressional district, represented by Congressman Clyburn. This arrangement has served the Tri-County area well over the years, giving our issues and our needs a voice and influence on both sides of the aisle in Washington. For instance, we have rebounded from the closing of the Charleston Naval Base to see opening of the new Boeing plant in North Charleston. Now, when we need our Congressional delegation to help us defend this economic development victory against an unprecedented assault by federal regulators, a plan is crafted and passed by Senate Democrats with the help of local Republicans that dilutes the Tri-County area’s voice in Washington. That does not seem to be a common sense plan for future local success.

When the General Assembly returns on July 26th to take up Congressional redistricting, I will continue to work for passage of a plan similar to one recommended by the Senate Judiciary Committee and supported by the majority of the Senate Republican Caucus. This plan again places the new Seventh District in the Pee Dee and makes the First District a true Lowcountry District. Most of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties would remain united in the First Congressional District, joined with lower Colleton County and most of Beaufort County. The Sixth Congressional District would also retain a footprint in Berkeley and Charleston counties similar to the one currently maximizing the Tri-County region’s influence in Washington and ensuring the Tri-County voice is loud and our needs are heard there.

It also restores to the Pee Dee region the Congressional District it lost in 1992 when the boundaries of the Sixth District were redrawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Under that plan, Horry County, one of the State’s fastest growing counties, will be in the new Pee Dee District rather than being paired with Charleston County.

This similar plan represents our best chance of having a plan passed by the General Assembly. The House of Representatives previously adopted a plan which locates the new Seventh District in the Pee Dee region. The differences between the House plan and that of the Senate Judiciary Committee are reconciled in this similar plan. The same cannot be said about the map being pushed by proponents of the Grooms plan. At public hearings, no one came forward to testify for it, and the House has never voted for one like it either.

If the House and Senate cannot agree on a new Congressional plan, a federal court made up of unelected judges with lifetime appointments will end up drawing the State’s congressional districts. The Senate’s Democrats who are in the minority and who want to advance their own partisan interests would rather roll the dice and take their chances in court than in the General Assembly. That is why they unanimously voted for the Grooms plan rather than the Committee plan. They recognized that the plan would lead to a rift between the House and Senate, increasing the odds of an impasse. However well intentioned, these ten Republican Senators naively played into the Democrats’ hands by voting for a plan which ultimately has no chance of becoming law and that has us on the path to the courthouse steps with a record of not keeping our Tri-County area together as much as possible in one congressional district.

I hope that true common sense will prevail. When the General Assembly returns on July 26th to take up redistricting, I will continue to fight for a plan, such as the one recommended by the Judiciary Committee that does not fracture the influence of the Tri-County area, and that allows our elected leaders the opportunity to pass a redistricting plan rather than a group of federal judges.

Glenn McConnell is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Redistricting Subcommittee


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