New House seat: Second voice vs. lost identity

The state Legislature is expected to take its final votes this week on redrawing the boundaries of the state's congressional districts, including the addition of a seventh seat.

The once-in-a-decade undertaking accounts for population growth and shifts, as reported in the U.S. Census.

Here are the pros and cons of dividing Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties into two congressional districts and what that means locally:

Pros

The tri-county would gain an additional voice in Washington, D.C., under a proposal before South Carolina lawmakers to draw Berkeley and Dorchester counties into one congressional district and put Charleston County in another.

Daniel Island, Goose Creek, Moncks Corner, Summerville, St. Stephen and St. George could step out of Charleston's shadow, under the plan passed by the Senate, according to its lead champion, Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau.

The Legislature is meeting this week to redraw the state's six congressional districts and add a seventh,

a process that could leave the court with the final word.

Senate Democrats like Grooms' plan for the new 7th seat. Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said that plan gives a Democrat a viable chance of winning a second seat in Congress while also strengthening the Democrats' stronghold on the 6th District.

The state House is expected to sign off on a similar version of its previously approved plan that draws the new 7th District in Horry County and the Pee Dee. The decision is likely to come down to extended debate in the Senate that depends as much on the arguments as who is in the chamber.

Democrats also believe they stand to gain if the plan is sent to the court for resolution, because judges focus on keeping the weight of all communities' voices equal, rather than political gamesmanship.

Cons

Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties need to stay united in one congressional district to maximize future regional economic development as well as the potential to bring home federal cash for local interests, advocates of the House-passed plan argue.

If the state Legislature decides to split the tri-county into two congressional districts, the counties stand to lose their regional identity, said Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston. A recent example of the power of a regional approach is the recruitment effort that brought the Boeing Co. to North Charleston.

"We need a congressman that has that tri-county focus as the heart of his or her district," McConnell said. "And if you throw out the tri-county concept, it will never again be, as far as congressional districts are concerned."

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, too, leans toward mapping the new 7th Congressional District in Horry County and parts of the Pee Dee and keeping the 1st District anchored in the tri-county. Harrell, R-Charleston, said he is open to debate, but the House is expected to settle quickly on the Horry County-based 7th district.

"We've been working, trying to get a compromise together," Harrell said.

Competing proposals

The Senate plan: Draws Beaufort, Berkeley and Dorchester counties into a new seventh district, along with a swath of rural counties along the Georgia border and portions of other counties. Charleston County would stay in the 1st District, currently represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Scott.

The House plan: Anchors the new seat in Horry County, running along the North Carolina border and swinging into the heart of the Pee Dee, shifting the 1st District farther south to comprise most of Charleston County and portions of Berkeley and Dorchester counties. Berkeley and Dorchester are also included in the 6th District, currently represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn.

The alternate plan: Although not yet unveiled, this plan is expected to be similar to the House-passed plan with an important distinction. It allows the 6th District to stretch into a portion of the Charleston peninsula without reaching into West Ashley. Daniel Island voters would stay in the 1st District.

What's next

Q: What happens if the Legislature can't reach an agreement?

A: If South Carolina lawmakers can't agree on the new congressional districts, a three-judge panel will design the map.

Q: What happens if the Legislature adopts a plan this week?

A: The map would then go to Gov. Nikki Haley to sign or veto. Because of the state's history of Civil Rights violations, the plan also has to be approved by the court or by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Q: What is the earliest the new district lines can be finalized?

A: Several different scenarios could play out, but none would likely be resolved before at least two months.

Q: When will elections be held for all seven districts?

A: The primary elections would be held in the spring and a general election in November, unless the plan hits a dramatic snag.