COLUMBIA - Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell testified Thursday that the Senate focused on keeping "communities of interest" together more than keeping counties intact as they redrew the body's 46 districts.
"I think county lines in many instances have become obsolete," Mr. McConnell, R-Charleston, told a panel of federal judges who will decide the final lines for the Statehouse and U.S. House seats.
But Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, testified that the public identifies with counties, not districts.
"It just makes it a lot easier when you represent a whole county to get everybody together," said Mr. Hutto, who served on the redistricting subcommittee.
Mr. Hutto, who represents residents in Orangeburg, Barnwell, Allendale and Hampton counties, talked about the effort it takes to work with four county councils, multiple mayors and civic leaders.
"If you're going to be effective you've got to get to know them," Mr. Hutto said.
Also it "takes some of the politics out of it when you just try to keep counties whole," he said.
Redistricting, required after every decennial census to ensure the one-man, one-vote principle, went before two U.S. District Court judges and one 4th Circuit Appeals Court judge after Gov. Jim Hodges vetoed redistricting plans the Republican-controlled Legislature adopted last year.
One of the participants in the lawsuit is Colleton County, which was split across three Senate districts in the plan lawmakers passed.
The county maintains that being split among several lawmakers has hurt it financially. Mr. McConnell said he would have liked to keep Colleton County whole, but it wasn't feasible.
"If I could have politically done it and stayed within the criteria, I would have," Mr. McConnell told attorney Tally Parham, who is representing Colleton County. "The issue was greater at that time than just Colleton County."
Mr. McConnell, who was chairman of the redistricting committee, said his staff considered county lines in redrawing districts to reflect changes in population, but that keeping counties whole was not a priority.
Attorneys in the redistricting lawsuit are expected to wrap up their cases early next week.