S.C. House panel OKs new district lines

COLUMBIA — South Carolina legislators approved plans for new election boundary lines Monday that included creating a new 7th District U.S. House seat out of two coastal counties and inland counties along the state's eastern border with North Carolina.


The House Judiciary Committee's approval of redistricting plans for 124 state House seats and the U.S. House now head to the House floor for debate next week. The state Senate will take up plans Tuesday drawing lines for its 46 seats as well its version of U.S. House district lines.

Redistricting is required every decade to make sure Statehouse and U.S. House districts properly divide the state's population. And any changes to South Carolina's boundaries must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice because of the state's past Voting Rights Act violations.

House Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison, R-Columbia, said the state's U.S. House members have signed off on changes made in their districts, including those needed to create the 7th.

The new seat was added to account for population growth and returns the House seat South Carolina lost in in 1930 as population fell. Neighboring Georgia also is picking up a seat.

The 7th District would include Horry and Georgetown counties on the coast as well as inland counties Chesterfield, Darlington, Dillon and most of Florence County. Several of those counties had been in the 1st, 5th and 6th Districts.

Adding the seat and request from U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the House's third highest ranking Democrat, for a more compact district, rearranged swaths of the state's U.S. House map.

— The 1st District, now held by Republican freshman U.S. Rep. Tim Scott shifts farther down the coast, and shifts Beaufort and Jasper counties from the 2nd District, home to veteran U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, a Republican.

— Wilson's 2nd District compacts and is made up mostly of Aiken, Barnwell, Lexington and parts of Richland counties.

— Freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan's 3rd District appears to change the least. It loses Aiken County and picks up parts of Newberry and Greenville counties.

— Republican freshman U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy's 4th District compacts, with 60 percent of it in Greenville County and 40 percent in Spartanburg. Union County moves into the 5th District.

— Freshman Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney's fast-growing 5th District picks up Union County as well as parts of Newberry and Sumter counties.

— Clyburn's 6th District picks up Allendale and Hampton counties and more of Sumter and Florence counties.

Legislators from Spartanburg and Greenville counties tried to keep their entire counties in the 4th District. For instance, Republican Greenville Rep. Wendy Nanney argued her county is the state's largest and deserves its own congressman. "We view it as quite an economic powerhouse and feel like it's important to keep Greenville County whole," Nanney said.

But the committed rejected proposals from both counties.

The state House plans draw eight legislators into four districts that would essentially pit existing lawmakers against each other in primaries next year. The committee also will adopt plans for a new, seventh U.S. House district.

— Democratic Rep. Denny Neilson of Darlington, the House's longest-serving member, had been drawn into the same district as Rep. Terry Alexander of Florence in a draft plan. Neilson said that would have meant parts of her district in downtown Darlington would have been merged into a Florence-based district. Neilson wanted the Darlington voters represented by the same House member.

"It was like the disenfranchisement of several thousand people," Neilson said.

The panel agreed Monday to draw her and Rep. Robert Williams into the same district, creating a primary faceoff for Neilson, who first won her seat in 1984, and Williams, who has held his since 2007.

"No one wants that to happen," Neilson said.

— Democratic Reps. Curtis Brantley of Ridgeland and Bill Bowers of Hampton were drawn into the same district representing Hampton and Jasper counties. Both are veteran legislators. The draft of the plan had drawn Brantley, who has served in the House since 2007, out of the district. But the committee moved the lines to make sure he lived in the redrawn district.

— Republican Reps. Dan Cooper of Piedmont and Eric Bikas of Easley were drawn into a Greenville-Anderson county district. Cooper, however, is giving up his seat. That would give Bikas, a freshman lawmaker, a better chance of holding onto the seat in next year's elections.

— Republican Reps. Mark Willis of Fountain Inn and David Tribble of Clinton were drawn into the same district around Laurens and Greenville counties. Willis has been in the House since 2009 and Tribble is in his freshman term.

There are other challenges.

For instance, black voter influence in a state with a history of racial discrimination remains a key element of redistricting. But that's become more difficult this time as more black voters have moved to suburban areas. For instance, state Rep. Robert Brown, a black Democrat from Hollywood, for years has represented a majority black district. But population shifts would have his district majority white.

The plan creates two new majority districts made up of minorities: one in Richland County and one in Georgetown County.