Sunday’s editorial weighs in on S.C. Democrats’ attempt to undo the new congressional district lines.
When the Justice Department signed off Oct. 28 on the state’s new congressional lines, we thought that the years-long build-up and debate about where to draw the districts was over, with the Grand Strand anchoring a new congressoinal district. But state Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian apparently has other ideas.
Monday, Harpootlian announced plans to file a lawsuit challenging the lines, complaining of an “antiquated standard” on race. If Harpootlian’s contention is that the state no longer needs to be under the auspices of the Voting Rights Act, with Justice looking over our shoulder, his position is perhaps understandable, though unlikely to succeed. But if, as seems more likely, he is simply acting as a thorn in the state’s side to raise both his own profile and that of the Democratic Party, this threatened suit is not only ill-fated, but ill-conceived and ill-advised.
To be sure, the Republican-controlled state legislature drew the lines to be as favorable as possible to Republican candidates – or rather, incumbents in all districts save that of Democrat James Clyburn – but the lines have been drawn, those in charge have signed off, the fight is over, and political leaders such as Harpootlian should look to factors other than the boundaries of the districts as they move forward.
The opportunity is greatest in a brand new district, but there are opportunities for representative government in all of the state’s congressional districts.
While South Carolina, without question, is a “red state” and incumbents typically have an advantage, all incumbents (whether in the U.S. House or on the county council) have some political baggage. This applies to a veteran such as Clyburn or a newcomer such as Tim Scott, who represents our current 1st Congressional District. Scott took the seat without opposition, effectively, picking up two and a half times the votes of his nearest opponent in Horry and Georgetown counties. This is not to suggest Scott would not have won against an aggressive, attractive Democratic opponent, but it is not difficult to say the race would have been much closer.
The point is that a viable opponent, Democrat or independent, will draw votes simply because he or she is a qualified, attractive candidate. South Carolina is a Republican state, but it is not as red as it once was, just as blue states (Illinois is a good example) are not as blue. The home state of President Obama elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 2008. As Myrtle Beach resident James Wiles lays out in part on our next opinion page today, the new district is effectively up for grabs.
To use the well-known words of Bob Dylan, “the times, they are a-changin’ “ – true in the world at large and in S.C. congressional districts. Strong challengers can defeat veteran incumbents, such as happened last year when Republican Mick Mulvaney unseated 14-term U.S. Rep. John Spratt in the 5th District, large parts of which are now in our new 7th District. The new boundaries of congressional districts across the nation present opportunities for viable challengers, Democratic, Green or independent.
Finding such challengers is where Harpootlian and other political leaders should be focusing their efforts. Rather than try to change the rules of the game, they would be better served spending their time finding and fostering candidates who can succeed. In fact, it’s hard to understand why we’re being treated to this sideshow of suing the Justice Department unless Harpootlian has failed to find a candidate that the party thinks can win. Our advice? There are 512,000 adults in the new 7th District. Look harder. But don’t waste our time with frivolous lawsuits.