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SC Democrat moves final US House map debate to Senate floor

Redistricting-South Carolina
Jeffrey Collins/AP
South Carolina Sen. Vernon Stephens, D-Bowman, takes notes during a Senate Judiciary Committee redistricting hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. Stephens questioned changes made in South Carolina's congressional districts during the hearing. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

A Democratic state senator who drew new U.S. House districts in South Carolina that would likely generate at least one more chance to send a Democrat to Washington said Wednesday he will wait to debate the his map before the full Senate.

The decision by Sen. Dick Hapootlian allowed the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass a map tweaked a little more than the version already passed by the House.

Republicans said the newest map heading to the Senate floor answers some criticism that parts of the Charleston area were broken apart into different U.S. House districts mostly to make sure the coastal 1st District becomes more Republican. Voters in that district broke a 38-year run of Republican U.S. representatives by voting for a Democrat for one term in 2018.

About 54% of voters in the newly proposed 1st District voted for Republican Donald Trump for president in 2020, about 2 percentage points higher than the district's current makeup.

The state's U.S. House delegation under the map passed by the committee would likely remain six Republicans and one Democrat from a district where nearly a majority of the voters are Black under the latest plan.

Supporters of the approved map said it tried to stay as similar to the 2010 U.S. House districts as possible, a challenge in a state that added about 500,000 people over the past decade with much of that growth lopsided along the coast.

Still, Democrats said the map could be better. The vote on the new districts in the Senate Judiciary Committee was 13-8, split on party lines.

"This is typically gerrymandered," said Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, a Democrat from Walterboro.

The vote moves a final debate on drawing new maps based on 2020 U.S. Census data to the Senate floor, where Harpootlian said he will propose his map as an amendment.

Hapootlian's map would create two districts where majorities picked Democrat Joe Biden over Trump in 2020, and a third in which Trump won by less than six percentage points.

It radically changes all seven of South Carolina's U.S. House districts. The 6th district, currently represented by Democrat U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, would no longer run from Charleston to Columbia, instead staying much closer to Columbia. That would allow much of the Charleston area to stay in the 1st District, a goal of civic groups like the League of Women Voters.

The new plan splits the city of Greenville out of the 4th District where it has been paired with Spartanburg for more than a century and pulls Florence out of the 7th District where it was drawn when population growth created the district in 2010.

His plan draws districts based on fairness and keeping like-minded communities together, Harpootlian said.

"The major reason I ran for the Senate was to not replicate this race-based gerrymandering," the senator said.

Harpootlian asked the author of the other plan considered by the committee if race was a major factor.

"We are not supposed to take race primarily into this and I tried to not take it into account at all," said Sen. Chip Campsen, a Republican from the Isle of Palms. "I wanted to be color blind."

It's not clear when the Senate will take up the U.S. House map. Senators are currently debating changes to hospital regulations that must be addressed under their rules before they can move on to another issue and there is a debate over medical marijuana looming.

The new South Carolina Senate and House districts have been signed into law. There already is a lawsuit over the state House maps.