COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster has created a massive committee to raise awareness about the 2020 census, stressing repeatedly it's important that all South Carolinians are counted and avoiding any mention of the citizenship question President Donald Trump wanted.
"It's very important we have an accurate count," the Republican governor said Thursday. "We’re growing. We’re prospering. We want to make sure everyone participates in this growth — that we leave no one behind."
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Trump's bid to include a citizenship question in next year's census by disputing his administration's rationale for it. Trump then declared he instead would direct federal agencies to try to compile the information using existing databases.
McMaster, an early Trump backer, sidestepped a question about the national controversy, saying all he's interested in are "the people living in South Carolina."
"Whatever contention has gone on has probably reminded a lot of people another census time is coming up," McMaster said.
He also clarified a statement made by Lt. Gov. Pam Evette, who will lead the newly formed South Carolina 2020 Complete Count Committee.
When she said the group will encourage "all of our citizens to participate," she meant all residents, McMaster said.
"It's the people. It's not visitors, not tourists, but anyone else," he said.
Noting South Carolina gained a U.S. House seat after the 2010 Census, McMaster suggested the state could get another one "if we're growing as fast as we think we are."
South Carolina had 4.6 million people as of the 2010 census. It's grown to at least 5.1 million, according to the Census Bureau's July 2018 estimate. However, at least one national study does not predict South Carolina will gain an eighth congressional seat after the 2020 census.
Each state's count also will determine the flow of more than $675 billion distributed annually through federal programs, including highway construction, education, health care and food benefits for the poor, said Mary Peeler with the Census Bureau's regional office in Atlanta.
To prepare for the census' official April 2020 kickoff, Evette said she'll call a public meeting of the committee soon.
The census panel is the fourth committee that McMaster has created by executive order since he took office in January 2017. The others were on opioids, cybersecurity and flooding.
This one may need an auditorium to meet.
The list of 55 government agencies and organizations that have agreed to participate in the committee includes the Progressive Network, Food Bank Association, the NAACP and PASOs — which helps Latinos in South Carolina. Also part of the panel are major corporations BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina and Dominion Energy, which McMaster said could put notices in power bills.
"We have the whole panoply of South Carolina," McMaster said.
Still, the committee could grow even larger. McMaster invited any and all groups that can get the word out to join the effort.
"This is an awareness program just like all others. The difference is this one is critically important because we won’t do it again for 10 more years," he said. "We’re on the way up, and we want to find out where we are, who we are and ensure our representation strength is felt."