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SC Politics

Exposed: Jim Clyburn’s Role In Racially Drawn Political Boundaries

“He wanted his seat to be made as safe as possible.”

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For years, mainstream media outlets in South Carolina have refused to tell the full story of how political boundaries in the Palmetto State are drawn. Rather, they have perpetuated the narrative that a bunch of racist, white Republicans conspired to unconstitutionally fix these borders according to their own electoral self-interests.

Is that true? In some cases, yes. Absolutely.

But they haven’t done it alone …

“The creation of anti-competitive, majority-minority districts in South Carolina has been a bipartisan, biracial undertaking for decades … not to mention a mutually beneficial one for the politicians with the sharpies in their hands,” I noted last fall.

Redistricting is the decennial process by which electoral borders are reconfigured – based ostensibly on the latest population data from the U.S. Census. Sadly, in South Carolina the process is based upon the needs of the powerful – including arguably the most powerful member of the South Carolina congressional delegation, a black Democrat.

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In the fall of 2021, this news outlet penned a lengthy story discussing the extent to which powerful U.S. congressman Jim Clyburn was manipulating this process to his advantage (again) – conspiring with GOP leaders to draw political boundaries protecting his political fiefdom in the Palmetto State’s dirt-poor sixth congressional district.

If that sounds familiar, it should … I’ve been writing about this bipartisan assault on electoral competitiveness for years. And yet these boundaries continue to bend to the will of politicians – not the needs of citizens or the cohesion of communities.

“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.”

The following year, I argued redistricting should be “conducted scientifically … apolitically,”

“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,” I noted at the time.

Unfortunately, Clyburn and his GOP allies have been definitionally undermining democratic representation in the name of political deal-making … even as Clyburn repeatedly washed his hands of the maps purportedly drawn by those racist Republicans.

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RELATED | SOUTH CAROLINA DISTRICTS AT HEART OF FEDERAL CHALLENGE

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“In South Carolina, redistricting is done by the Legislature,” Clyburn wrote in a 2018 letter to the editor of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper. “Any gerrymandering of election districts is the product of the Republican-controlled General Assembly.”

Is it, though?

“If I had drawn the lines, my district would not be 58 percent black, and Joe Wilson, with whom I share Columbia and Richland County, would not have a district that is 68 percent white,” Clyburn continued in his letter.

The problem? Clyburn did draw the lines.

Late last week, reporter Marylin W. Thompson of ProPublica penned the definitive take on Clyburn’s unseemly role in this process.

“Facing the possibility of an unsafe district, South Carolina’s most powerful Democrat sent his aide to consult with the GOP on a redistricting plan that diluted black voting strength and harmed his party’s chances of gaining seats in Congress,” Thompson noted.

This consultation with Clyburn’s aide, Dalton Tresvant, was “arranged in secret,” according to Thompson.

“His once majority black district had suffered a daunting exodus of residents since the last count,” Thompson continued. “He wanted his seat to be made as safe as possible.”

Damn straight he did …

(Click to View)

S.C. sixth congressional district map from U.S. congressman Jim Clyburn (ProPublica)

According to Thompson, Tresvant carried with him “a hand-drawn map” of the sixth congressional district – one which “added black voters … while moving out some predominantly white precincts that leaned toward the GOP.”

In other words, Clyburn did exactly what I said he was doing at the time …

“Not only was Clyburn determined to surrender precisely none of his black voters, he made it abundantly clear he would be corralling even more of them into his fiefdom – making it even harder for Democrats to compete in surrounding districts,” I noted in November 2021.

The Clyburn map – which was largely adopted by the GOP – “made Clyburn’s lock on power stronger than it might have been otherwise,” Thompson noted. However, it “came at a cost (as) Democrats now have virtually no shot of winning any congressional seat in South Carolina other than Clyburn’s.”

Which … they didn’t.

To her credit, Thompson also took note of the deafening silence coming out of Clyburn’s office – and mainstream media newsrooms – related to his role in the “racist” redistricting process.

“As others attacked the Republican redistricting as an illegal racial gerrymander, Clyburn said nothing publicly,” Thompson wrote. “His role throughout the redistricting process has remained out of the public view, and he has denied any involvement in state legislative decisions.”

Why the silence? Because no one is willing to call Clyburn out …

(Click to View)

President Joe Biden walks across West Executive Avenue with U.S. Representative Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., after signing the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House, Tuesday, March 15, 2022. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

The 82-year-old Sumter native remains the dominant figure in Democratic politics in South Carolina – drawing his power from the politicians who owe their careers to him. To wit: Clyburn delivered the black vote for U.S. president Joe Biden at a critical moment in his candidacy more than three years ago. Biden, readers will recall, was left for dead by the American punditry following disastrous showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. South Carolina brought his moribund campaign back to life. And that victory catapulted him to a huge Super Tuesday victory – and the Democratic nomination.

How is Clyburn repaid? So many, many ways …

Similarly, Clyburn has withheld support from Democratic candidates in South Carolina … and then watched them implode spectacularly.

Just this month, Clyburn solidified his hold over the S.C. Democratic Party (SCDP) by having his longtime aide Christale Spain installed as its new chairwoman. Spain was elected by affirmation after her only opponent dropped out of the race.

In Thompson’s story, the only Democrat willing to speak out against Clyburn was influential Columbia, S.C. attorney (and former CNN commentator) Bakari Sellers – who lamented the ongoing electoral marginalization of “people of color, those poor people, those individuals who have been crying out for so long.”

“There is a very unholy alliance between many black legislators and their Republican counterparts in the redistricting process,” Sellers said.

Indeed there is … and for the first time, people outside of the Palmetto political echo chamber are finally talking about it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...

Will Folks on phone
Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

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.

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5 comments

Really? May 8, 2023 at 9:10 pm

FitsNews is now concerned about “racially drawn political bountries”?

Wait till Will sees what Republicans have done in that arena over the last few decades.

Reply
Jeffrey Borthick Top fan May 10, 2023 at 6:36 am

Who is “Kroll”? Some spokesperson, obviously, but the intro and or credentials seem to have suffered the editing process…

Reply
Joseph Riollano Top fan May 8, 2023 at 9:44 pm

Corruption runs rampant in South Carolina government. At every level across all departments.

Reply
Thomas O'Brien Top fan May 8, 2023 at 10:54 pm

Clyburn, Like ALL Democrats are Nothing More than Poverty Pimps!!

Reply
Davis Beam Top fan May 19, 2023 at 3:53 pm

The African American Democrats and the Republicans got together in the early 90’s during redistricting and decided to work together to make rural white Democrats extinct and today they pretty much are. Out of the 7 US congressional districts in SC, 3 could easily be Democratic if the lines were drawn according to regions of common interest instead of the color of skin.

Reply

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