by Sam Spence
Every 10 years, redistricting re-emerges as an under-the-radar power struggle within statehouses across the U.S., and for good reason. The effects of the U.S. Supreme Court's approval of redrawn Palmetto State Congressional and General Assembly district lines won't be felt immediately, but the high-stakes horse trading that goes into the process could affect the balance of power locally and statewide.
The appeal, brought by seven African-American voters from S.C., alleges that the negotiated district lines show an effort by Republicans to create an "electoral apartheid" by drawing majority black districts to "bleach out" surrounding districts "so they don't have to talk to, to deal with, or to campaign for African-American votes" according to state Democratic Chair Dick Harpootlian, who represented the voters in the case. Republicans say Harpo's assertions are false and that the case is an attempt to stir the pot. The court sided with a lower federal panel that said the new lines were not drawn to be discriminatory, giving the districts the final OK.
Locally, several districts will see significant changes. The Charleston area will remain in the state's 1st Congressional District, but freshman Rep. Tim Scott's territory will shift from the Grand Strand to the Lowcountry. The 1st, which originally ran from Charleston north along the coast to the state line, will now run from Georgetown south to Beaufort to make way for the new 7th District in the Pee Dee.
Upper peninsula residents represented by Sen. Chip Campsen (District 43) will now be represented by Sen. Robert Ford (District 42), a majority African-American district that comprises much of North Charleston. Campsen's district will now represent the Sea Islands from Parris Island north to Bull Island, a district that's nearly 77 percent white.
The rapidly changing area west of the Ashley will also see shifts. Rep. Peter McCoy's James Island District 115, which flipped to GOP representation in 2010 will take over Kiawah Island from Leon Stavrinakis' District 119, making McCoy's 90 percent white district significantly safer for Republicans. Senate District 41, where now-Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell previously represented much of West Ashley and the nearby Sea Islands will shift into rural Charleston and Dorchester counties to make way for a majority-minority district on Johns Island.
Harpootlian said he was "disappointed" in the ruling, but noted that an upcoming decision in a Texas case over the application of the Voting Rights Act could have effects in the Palmetto State. House Speaker Bobby Harrell praised the process by which lawmakers crafted the new lines, and criticized the appeal, which he called a "frivolous, poorly guided last ditch effort of political motive."