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Cunningham joins SC Democrats unhappy with US House proposal

November 29, 2021 GMT
Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham testifies before a South Carolina Senate subcommittee considering new maps for U.S. House districts on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. Cunningham asked senators to reject the new maps, saying they appeared to be drawn by a partisan hack to help Republicans.(AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
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Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham testifies before a South Carolina Senate subcommittee considering new maps for U.S. House districts on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. Cunningham asked senators to reject the new maps, saying they appeared to be drawn by a partisan hack to help Republicans.(AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
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Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham testifies before a South Carolina Senate subcommittee considering new maps for U.S. House districts on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. Cunningham asked senators to reject the new maps, saying they appeared to be drawn by a partisan hack to help Republicans.(AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Democratic senators said Monday they want more information about how staff members came up with the proposed new maps for U.S. House seats before they can support them.

The new maps didn’t make wholesale changes in the state’s seven U.S. House districts and, as drawn, the state would be very likely to continue to send six Republicans and one Democrat to Washington.

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. The entire Senate is set to return for a special session to consider the new maps next Monday.

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

The changes made in the proposed districts put more likely Republican voters into the coastal 1st District, which is the only one in South Carolina where a Democrat has flipped a seat from Republicans since 1986 — and just for one term.

That Democrat, Joe Cunningham, appeared before the Senate subcommittee Monday, saying it appeared the new districts were drawn by “a partisan hack” and if Republicans want to regain a majority in the U.S. House in 2022 they should go earn it at polling places and not on a computer in the map room.

“The folks in Washington, D.C., drawing these maps don’t like competition. 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,” said Cunningham, who is running for governor in 2022 against Republican incumbent Henry McMaster and at least two other Democratic challengers.

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

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2018 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% of the vote.

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. Rep. 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. Rep. 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. Rep. Jeff Duncan’s 3rd District.

Teague said the Senate’s U.S. House map almost assures 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.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.