Monday, May 23, 2011

From the House

I want to thank all of you who called, wrote, or emailed me this week as we begin to wind down the session. There are a number of outstanding issues to be dealt with, not the least of which is immigration. The immigration bill is coming forward and I will have much to say about what we are likely to do, but that will have to wait for a future column.

Today, it is redistricting and something of a “heads-up” on what our local legislative districts may look like.

As your representative for District 118, I have worked for the betterment of not only Beaufort County and Greater Bluffton, I have done whatever I could to help our friends in Jasper County take their place among the prosperous coastal areas of the state. Former Representative Thayer Rivers was one of my earliest legislative allies, and I have developed a good working relationship with his successor, Rep. Curtis Brantley. Also, I have always admired the idealism and keen political skills of Senator Clementa Pinckney, especially as we worked to make the Jasper Port a reality.

Even a cursory look at the map will show how all of our access to I-95 is through Jasper County. All our major rivers and estuaries make up in Jasper County as well. Consequently, much of our transportation effort and much of our environmental effort has been successful or unsuccessful largely to the degree we could enlist our neighbors in Jasper County. Needless to say, we in Beaufort County have much in common with our friends to the west.

It now appears very likely that the necessities of redistricting are going to draw us ever closer to Jasper County, Hardeeville, and even Ridgeland. To my way of thinking, this merger will be to the immense benefit of both counties, not only in efficiencies of proximity, but we will also potentially have the third most powerful delegation in the General Assembly.

This is how the maps are shaping up:

District 118, because of massive growth in Greater Bluffton in the last ten years, has twice as many residents as the average district. The new district will very likely contain much of present Bluffton south of Highway 278, much of Sun City, but also extend into Jasper County and include much of Hardeeville all the way to the Savannah River. There is another, new district that will likely have a part of eastern Bluffton, extend to the developments north of Highway 278 and follow Highway 170 as far as Ridgeland. District 123, represented by Andy Patrick, will gain Daufuskie Island, which is as it should have been anyway.

This new configuration is by no means carved in stone. There are any number of hurtles to be jumped, not the least of which is a blessing by the civil rights folks at the Federal Department of Justice. It does, however, use many of the favored criteria, such as county lines, roads, and rivers to draw districts that will not only give a desirable population distribution, but also does not dilute minority voting strength beyond reasonable percentages.

While this new configuration will take some getting used to, I believe the political strength of a Beaufort/Jasper delegation will more than compensate for any dislocation any resident might feel.

Next time, I hope the Amazon situation will be clarified to the degree that I can give you the real story of this somewhat bizarre tale of competing narratives.