If South Carolina’s new 3rd congressional district were a piece of gym equipment, it would be a barbell with a weight on only one end.
The heavy end would be the northern part, which reaches across Anderson, Pickens, Oconee and Greenville counties. The southern end is the light end. It stops with rural Edgefield County, whose 27,000 residents make up a sliver of the nearly 661,000-person district.
“I think the voting influence of every person I represent is diluted in the new map,” said state Sen. Shane Massey, a Republican whose district includes Edgefield County, part of Aiken and other nearby counties. Massey was one of two Republicans who joined Democratic senators in voting against the ultimate plan. The once-a-decade redistricting map now awaits U.S. Justice Department approval before it can go into effect.
The new congressional district map, which adds a seventh district due to the state’s population growth, severs western Aiken County completely from the 3rd district, while expanding its reach from 10 counties to 11. The new plan also lumps all of Aiken County into the 2nd congressional district.
“It’s going to be very difficult for the people who live in smaller counties in the southern end to have influence with their congressman,” said Massey, who said he had brought his concerns to the attention of the district's congressman, U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan.
Duncan acknowledged them, but pointed to what he sees as a silver lining.
“I am going to continue to represent those areas as well as I have in the last seven months,” said the Republican congressman, a former state lawmaker who was elected to the U.S. House in November.
“Them being the anchor of the district probably benefits them more than when Aiken was the anchor,” added Duncan.
“Aiken demanded a lot of time.”
He said he would have preferred his district stay exactly the way it is, but he understood that losing Aiken County was part of every district giving up something to make way for the new seventh district situated in the state's northeastern corner.
During the S.C. Legislature’s debate over the new map this year, the area’s state representative Bill Hixon, an Edgefield County Republican, tried to amend the bill so that Duncan’s district would keep part of Aiken County. But his amendment was defeated.
On Friday Hixon, whose district will be split between Duncan’s 3rd congressional district, and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson’s new 2nd congressional district, said he met with Wilson on Tuesday and is not worried about the clout of the sparsely-populated bottom half of the 3rd district.
“Every smart politician is wanting to have all the votes that he can have, and he’s going to try to make to every place he can,” said Hixon.
He said both Republican congressmen, Duncan and Wilson, would make the federal Savannah River Site in Aiken County a priority, since the facility employs residents from both Aiken and Edgefield counties. Duncan said he would remain active on the Congressional Nuclear Cleanup Caucus.
But for some, the problem is the district’s big picture, not its geographic nuances.
“We’re still in Duncan’s district, right?” said Willie Bright, chairman of the Edgefield County Democratic Party.
“As far as I’m concerned, we didn’t get much attention anyway, so I don’t know if it’s going to make that great a difference.”
He said the last time the rural county was well represented was when Democrat Butler Derrick held the congressional seat, a period that ended in the mid-90s.
Added Bright: “As long as we have just another Republican, it’s not going to make that great of a difference.”
Reach Sarita Chourey at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 727-4247