Proposed maps have incumbent lawmakers paired in 6 districts

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South Carolina Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, looks over a map during a House redistricting committee public hearing on Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia. Govan was put into a district with another incumbent in the proposed House map.

COLUMBIA – Reps. Jerry Govan D-Orangeburg, and Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, could face each other in the next election.

A House redistricting proposal places Govan and Ott in the same district as lawmakers redraw lines to account for South Carolina’s rapidly growing coastal and suburban areas. There could be five House districts and one Senate district with two incumbents in the 2022 election.

Govan, first elected in 1992, said Wednesday that being put in a district with Ott won’t keep him from running again in 2022 if his family and faith agree. The district now contains all of Calhoun County and part of Orangeburg and Lexington counties.

Govan said the new maps — which still must be approved by a committee, the full House and survive any legal challenges — obliterate his minority district by moving it to well-off Tega Cay, in the rapidly growing area near Charlotte, North Carolina.

The House plan didn’t put the House’s longest-serving member, Democratic Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg, with an incumbent.

The House plan also kept Rep. Justin Bamberg, a Bamberg Democrat elected in 2014, alone in his district. He is on the House redistricting committee.

During a break at a public hearing Wednesday, Govan spoke to several people unhappy with the ways the districts in and around Orangeburg County were drawn.

The new districts are drawn with 2020 U.S. Census numbers.

South Carolina grew by 10.7% to more than 5.1 million people. But that growth was lopsided, with many more of the 500,000 new people moving to areas along the coast, the South Carolina suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina, or around Greenville.

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That meant collapsing some districts that were up to 20% under the population needed to make House districts equal. Along with the new Tega Cay district, a rural Richland County district is now in Mount Pleasant and a Florence County district is now in Conway, according to the proposal by the House redistricting committee.

“Tough decisions have to be made. This General Assembly can’t control growth patterns,” said Rep. Jason Elliott, a Republican from Greenville.

Both the House and Senate districts must be approved by a committee and then by each chamber, likely in a December special session. There could be changes before then.

And lawmakers are under a time crunch. The House districts must be approved and any significant legal challenges resolved before filing for the 2022 elections begin in mid-March.

Both chambers also must approve new U.S. House districts. Neither chamber has proposed new maps for the 2022 elections yet.

The Senate committee handling redistricting released its proposed maps last week. They moved a Columbia district to Charleston and put Democratic Sens. Nikki Setzler and Dick Harpootlian in the same district, anchored by downtown Columbia and the areas just west of the Congaree River.

Setzler entered the Senate in 1977.

The other House Democrats being pitted against each other are Reps. Roger Kirby and Lucas Atkinson in a district that includes all of Marion County, part of Williamsburg County and snakes back to Kirby’s home near Lake City and Reps. Wendy Brawley and Jermaine Johnson in a rural Richland County district southeast of Columbia.

Republican Reps. Brandon Newton and Vic Dabney are drawn into the same district in Lancaster and Kershaw counties and GOP Reps. Richie Yow and Sandy McGarry are now in the same district that includes much of Chesterfield County and part of Lancaster County.

The new maps would likely not significantly change the Republicans’ 81-43 advantage over Democrats in the House and 30-16 advantage in the Senate.

The leader of the House redistricting committee said several times during Wednesday’s meeting that his chamber’s maps are still a work in progress. But Republican Rep. Jay Jordan of Florence also warned there are no easy fixes.

“For every action, there is a reaction that reverberates across the entire map,” Jordan said.

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