Two so-called “Republican” incumbents in the South Carolina Upstate have been accused of conspiring with party leaders to redraw their district borders and carve out their former primary rivals – thus protecting them from future electoral challenges.
Every decade, the S.C. General Assembly is responsible for “redistricting” – the decennial process of reconfiguring electoral borders based on the latest population data from the U.S. Census.
As I have frequently noted, this process has been notoriously bad for electoral competitiveness … no matter which party is responsible for the unfair maps.
“Republicans and Democrats in South Carolina continue to draw legislative districts that insulate incumbents – denying voters real choices at the ballot box,” I wrote in a 2018 column. “Not surprisingly, this lack of choice leads to a lack of accountability – which leads to a lack of progress on a host of fronts.”
“Elections … are foregone conclusions,” I added in a column published earlier this year. “There are no real choices because no one challenges the incumbents.”
In Pickens County South Carolina, this pervasive lack of choice has been compounded by what appears to be a deliberate effort to remove specific challengers from the districts of specific incumbents.
Literally drawing them out of contention …
Over the weekend, an Upstate GOP activist drew my attention to the proposed lines for South Carolina House District 3 (.pdf) and House District 5 (.pdf). In comparing these new district lines to the boundaries currently in effect for District 3 (.pdf) and District 5 (.pdf), the activist noticed something interesting.
Specifically, they drew my attention to a pair of geographic incursions – sections of the current districts which have been literally carved out of the new districts.
Take a look …
(Click to view)
(Via: S.C. House of Representatives)
Hold up, though … what are those red “x” marks within the circles?
Glad you asked. Those are the home addresses of two erstwhile challengers to the legislators who currently represent these districts.
I say “erstwhile” because these challengers will not be able to run against these incumbents again in 2022. Why not? Because as the red “x” marks indicate, each challenger has literally been drawn out of the district in which they currently reside. And state law requires representatives reside within the boundaries of the districts they “represent.”
“In both cases, (the challengers) live within 1,000 feet of the new boundaries,” the activist told me, describing the new maps as “nothing but incumbent protection.”
Since December, S.C. House District 3 has been represented by Jerry T. Carter – who edged local school board member Phillip Bowers in the June 2020 GOP primary election.
Since 2015, S.C. House District 5 has been represented by Neal Collins – a fiscally and socially left-of-center “Republican” who narrowly defeated former nuclear station employee Allan Quinn in the 2020 GOP runoff election.
Thanks to the redrawn lines, Bowers no longer resides in the district represented by Carter. Instead, he now lives in S.C. House District 1, which is represented by state representative Bill Whitmire. Similarly, Quinn no longer resides in the district represented by Collins but instead now lives in S.C. House District 10, which is represented by state representative West Cox.
In other words, these two challengers cannot run for the offices they previously sought … at least not without moving from their current addresses.
Is that fair?
No. Not at all.
My news outlet has consistently called on lawmakers to draw districts based on the best interests of communities – not the politicians who ostensibly “represent” them.
“Let (redistricting) be conducted scientifically … apolitically,” I noted in a column written in June 2019. “Decisions regarding citizen representation are central to the integrity of our representative democracy – and they must be made based on hard data, not political deal-making.”
Specifically, I have called on lawmakers to stop “safeguarding vulnerable incumbents and protecting party fiefdoms at the expense of community representation.”
How have they responded? By gerrymandering existing districts to make sure credible challengers are blocked from running again.
For those of you unhip to history, the term “gerrymandering” derives its name from former U.S. vice president Elbridge Gerry – who as governor of Massachusetts signed a bill in 1812 that redrew the state’s Senate districts. A famous political cartoon at the time depicted one of the contorted districts in the Boston area as a giant lizard, which soon became known as a “Gerrymander.”
Stay tuned … this news outlet plans on reviewing districts across the Palmetto State to see if there are other examples of “incumbent protection” present in the new legislative maps.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that Chicago Blackhawks’ lid pictured above).
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