Ex-South Carolina Rep. Says State's Political Map Drawn By 'A Partisan Hack' to Help GOP

After a South Carolina committee released its proposed new district maps last week, other state legislators have begun to weigh in on the proposals, the Associated Press reported.

South Carolina Democratic senators said Monday they wanted to review the maps, and learn what information was used to draw them before the maps can gain their support. Under the new proposal, the state probably would continue to have six Republicans and one Democrat in their seven U.S. House seats.

The bulk of the changes some Democrats have taken issue with come in the 1st district, which includes parts of Charleston and Hilton Head Island. The district is the only seat flipped by a Democrat since 1986, when Joe Cunningham won in 2018 and served one term, losing his reelection bid in 2020.

Speaking before the state Senate subcommittee on Monday, Cunningham said the maps looked like they were drawn by "a partisan hack" and added that Republicans should focus on winning a majority in the House in 2022 by earning voters with their ideas and positions, not by using a computer and maps to give themselves an advantage.

"The folks in Washington, D.C., drawing these maps don't like competition," said Cunningham, who is running for governor in 2022 against Republican incumbent Henry McMaster and at least two Democrats. "They don't want close elections. They want safe elections. And they want to make sure that what happened in 2018 never happens again. Even if they have to rig the system to do it."

The rest of the state Senate is scheduled to return for a session considering the new maps next Monday.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

South Carolina, Redistricting, Joe Cunningham
Former Democratic U.S. Representative Joe Cunningham testifies before a South Carolina Senate subcommittee considering new maps for U.S. House districts on Monday in Columbia, South Carolina. Cunningham asked senators to reject the new maps, saying they appeared to be drawn by a partisan hack to help Republicans. Jeffrey Collins/Associated Press

Republicans on the committee said little about the plans and no vote was taken by the subcommittee. The panel did OK small changes Monday in state Senate districts that they have already approved.

"I think I need to analyze why Charleston County was cut up the way it was," said state Senator Margie Bright Matthews, a Democrat from Walterboro.

Cunningham was elected in 2018 by about 1.5 percent of the vote after a Republican knocked off the incumbent in the primary, but he lost his 2020 reelection bid by just under 1.5 percent.

His victory was the first time a Democrat won the district, now anchored by areas around Charleston and Hilton Head Island, in nearly 40 years. In 2016, Donald Trump won the district by 12 percent.

Changes to the map had to be made. South Carolina added nearly 500,000 people in the past decade, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. That growth was lopsided, especially with people pouring into coastal neighborhoods as opposed to the rural areas inland.

There were more radical solutions. The League of Women Voters suggested removing Charleston from Democratic U.S. Representative Jim Clyburn's 6th District, drawn since his first election in 1992 to have a majority of minority voters and currently stretching from Charleston to Columbia. The group said that could be done and keep the 6th District where it was likely to elect a minority.

"North Charleston should not be with Columbia. North Charleston is part of a very coherent community of interest with Charleston and the other satellite cities and suburbs growing around the Charleston area," said Lynn Teague, vice president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina.

But instead, the Republican majority Senate went with "a minimal change" plan, said South Carolina Senate Cartographer Will Roberts.

The map makers took more Republican and more white precincts out of the 6th District and into the 1st District, now represented by Republican Nancy Mace.

The new 1st District would now have parts of six counties, but no whole county. Johns Island, known for its role in the civil rights movement, was moved to the 6th District, but the nearby wealthy white enclaves of Kiawah Island and Seabrook Islands stay in the 1st District.

And while most of the Charleston area is in the 1st District as its anchor, nearly all of the downtown peninsula—the heart of Charleston since settlers arrived 350 years ago—is now in the 6th District under the plan.

In the 1st District, "now the only thing left of the Charleston peninsula is the nearly all-white million-dollar homes South of Broad," Cunningham said.

The changes in other districts were fairly minimal. The 5th District, represented by U.S. Representative Ralph Norman, had its boundaries shrink under the proposal because of massive growth around Rock Hill, just south of Charlotte, North Carolina. Instead of being split, Newberry County will now all be in U.S. Representative Jeff Duncan's 3rd District.

Teague said the Senate's U.S. House map almost assures that the outcome in each district in each election until 2030 will be predictable before any ballots are cast.

"Extreme districts produce extreme politics that are harming our country," Teague said.

South Carolina, Redistricting, Politics
State senators began weighing in Monday on new district map proposals submitted last week by South Carolina's state's Senate subcommittee. Above, an exterior view of the South Carolina State House in Columbia. Epics/Getty Images