COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The decade-long Republican control of South Carolina government has resulted in congressional districts increasingly safe for the GOP and has marginalized conservative white Democrats who for decades ran the state where the Civil War began.
After decades of growth, the GOP took control of the state in the early 2000s for the first time since Reconstruction. The party now has six of the state’s seven House seats as well as both seats in the U.S. Senate. The governor and all constitutional officers are Republican as are majorities in both the state House and Senate.
And, with the party in power wielding the pens when it comes to drawing congressional lines, it appears GOP dominance will increase.
“When redistricting took place it was a partnership between Republicans and African-Americans,” said Gibbs Knotts, the chairman of the Department of Political Science at the College of Charleston. “Republicans got more safely Republican districts and African-Americans got majority minority districts. What that left out were districts where more conservative Democrats, usually white, were able to win.”
The only Democrat in the state congressional delegation now is Jim Clyburn, the first black elected to Congress from South Carolina since Reconstruction and who represents the state’s black-majority 6th District.
The state’s last white Democratic congressman was John Spratt, the longtime chairman of the House Budget Committee who, seeking a 15th term, was defeated by Republican Mick Mulvaney four years ago. That was the year of the last Census and, as a result of population growth, South Carolina got another House seat.
The new 7th District was created in the state’s northeast corner, with largely rural and black Democratic counties counterbalanced by strongly Republican areas near Myrtle Beach. Much of the growth in the state’s population during the past two decades has been the influx of Midwest and Northeastern transplants to the state’s coast, many of them well-off, white Republicans.
In the first election in the 7th District, white Republican Tom Rice defeated black Democrat Gloria Brommell Tinubu with almost 56 percent of the vote in 2012. Republican Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama in the state the same day and by nearly the same margin, winning 55 percent of the vote.
Following the 2010 Census, just as a decade earlier, there was a court challenge to the redrawn districts with attorneys for a group of black voters arguing that voters were segregated in what amounted to “voting apartheid.” But the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a federal court’s ruling that the districts were fair.
Knotts, though, says something is lost with such districts.
“We lose when it’s just drawn to maximize a particular political group’s ability to win,” he said. “You want someone who can understand and represent all of the people.”
He suspects such gerrymandering has something to do with lack of faith in government.
“I’ve not seen a study that links redistricting to the decline of trust in government but that’s a good research question,” he said. “In the places where the districts are more screwy do people rate the level of representation they receive lower?”