Legislators in the South Carolina House began the long task of redrawing the districts they represent this week as they saw local Census data for the first time.
While many of the headlines focused on where to put a new congressional seat in South Carolina, some legislators are distracted trying to save their own careers. Population shifts out of rural and inner-city areas into suburban ones mean some House members will likely be out of a seat in the 2012 election- especially those in the more rural parts of the state.
House districts are supposed to have populations of roughly 37,000 each, according to the newest Census data. However, many of the current alignments are well off the average. That means the House has the arduous task of re-organizing, making deals, and re-drawing so each of the state’s 124 districts are as close to that number as possible.
SCRN interviewed two House members who will be impacted by the moves.
Rep. Bill Herbkersman’s (R-Beaufort) district is the House’s largest. He represents over 60,000 people– meaning his district will almost certainly be split. The massive growth of the Bluffton and Hilton Head areas puts him in an enviable position, since any redistricting will probably keep his home address safe.
Herbkersman said there was one good thing about his district splitting– his office would no longer be overwhelmed by a constituency twice the average size.
We get probably between 300-600 constituent contacts per week. We do call everybody that’s in the district back. It’ll relieve some of that issue and probably provide for a little bit better service to the constituents.
However, he said it was bittersweet to have to lose such a large number of his supporters to another legislator. He predicted his finished district would stay in Bluffton, where he lives. Beaufort County is expected to pick up a new seat, which would almost certainly lean Republican.
But, on the other end is Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland), whose inner-city Columbia seat is the smallest in the Legislature both geographically and in population (28,000 residents). Rutherford said he lost a number of constituents when the city began converting the densely populated downtown public housing projects into mixed-use residences.
My district is going to have to grow to get population from somewhere. Over the last 10 years, (there) was a federal program to take people out of housing projects and put them into better housing. Even though I knew I was losing thousands in population, I wasn’t going to stop people from moving into better housing.
The revamping of those areas was one reason for a significant African-American migration out of Democratic strongholds in Columbia into the city’s more conservative suburbs. While Columbia grew in size, most of the growth came outside of downtown. Rutherford said it’s too early to know how the Legislature will redraw the districts to match the shift, but he expects a challenge.
It’s still so early in the process that a lot of the fighting, and a lot of the very interesting stuff, just hasn’t happened yet. Once we go further along… that’s when it’s truly going to get interesting.
And Rutherford will likely be among those doing the “fighting.” His district borders five others, and three of those are also below the 37,000 mark. Since one of those three seats is held by a Republican (Rep. Joan Brady), Rutherford will likely end up spending much of his energy in an attempt to grow and protect his district against two other Columbia Democrats in a similar predicament.
In the coming weeks, SCRN will take a look at how legislators can combine Census data with modern technology in a special “map room” to redraw their district lines as accurately as possible.