Dorchester redrawing stirs unease
SUMMERVILLE -- The Dorchester County Council chairman will represent new voters under redrawn council districts, and that leaves some Republican Party members uneasy. A council member who lives in St. George will represent residents in a neighborhood on the other side of the county.
And the district redrawing that's forcing these changes won't be the district farthest away from the population growth for much longer.
Six potential plans to redraw County Council voting districts go to a first public hearing today, as council members gauge residents' reactions before voting to approve one. The hearing "is going to be public discussion, 'What do you want?' " Chairman Larry Hargett said.
The redrawing is required to maintain a population balance among districts as reflected in the 2010 Census. The census showed Dorchester to be the fastest-growing county in the state, due largely to Summerville and the areas surrounding the town. But the problematic district is the rural District 1, the minority-majority district mandated by the U.S. Justice Department.
The district is now largely "above the swamps," in the upper county. But the new Census numbers indicate minorities are more evenly dispersed among neighborhoods throughout the county, making a new district tougher to draw.
In the six plans, the district would encircle the other six districts; it would stretch from the Brownsville neighborhood in Summerville near the Berkeley County line all the way around to the Clubhouse neighborhood to the south near the Charleston County line. That has sizable repercussions for at least two other council districts. Willie Davis, who represents the district, is the only Democrat now on the council.
Councilman George Bailey's District 3, now largely around St. George in the upper county, would include the Archdale neighborhood in the far eastern county at the Charleston County line. Hargett's District 4 would lose Archdale and pick up more of Wescott Plantation in North Charleston.
At least some Republican Party activists are concerned the new neighborhoods would dilute the Republican strength in District 4. Hargett conceded he too is concerned somewhat.
"You're concerned any time you've served a subdivision for eight years (and lose it), he said. "We'll just have to see how it goes."
Carroll Duncan, the Republican Party chairwoman for the county, said she doesn't share the concern and the party is neutral on the redistricting plans.
"Whenever there's change, there will be individual concerns regardless of party affiliation. Wescott, in general, has voted for fiscally conservative Republicans," she said in an email.
Hargett and Bailey said the redrawings appear to be the fairest ways to go about redividing districts. Bailey, as it turns out, is no stranger to Archdale; he represented the community when he served in the S.C. House of Representatives.
"I don't believe any of the (proposed redrawings) changes the districts that much. I can live with any of the six plans," he said.
Justice Department-mandated districts can be found throughout the state. The city of Charleston has five seats; Charleston County has three seats. Bobby Bowers, S.C. Budget and Control Board research office director, is the man in charge of seeing that voting lines are redrawn properly. Population shifts in minority-majority districts are a concern for some districts across the state, he said earlier.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744 or follow him on Twitter at @bopete.