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Gerrymandering Hurts Us All
5/29/2013 4:26:35 PM

By Barney Blakeney

Okay one last installment about the Sanford/Colbert Busch May 7 special election.

By now everybody in the country knows Colbert Busch lost the election to Sanford, a philanderer who left his gubernatorial post to visit his gal in Argentina.

Last week I wrote a story about Colbert Busch’s failure to spend money in the Black community. She spent over $12 million on her unsuccessful campaign.

This morning I heard the talking heads on a morning news show rabble on about the peculiarities of southern politics. I don’t think the game of politics is played any different in the south than any other part of the country. Special interests in California buy politicians just as they do in South Carolina.

What I want to finally say about the Colbert Busch/Sanford election is that the May 7 congressional election, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, demonstrates just how adversely gerrymandering affects our political system.

I spoke with a couple of Democrats about the Colbert Busch Black spending story and both insisted that her loss came not so much because of any neglect of Black voters, but more because of the way the district lines were redrawn at the 2010 redistricting. A lot of Black folks were drawn out of the First District and thrown into the Sixth Congressional District represented by Cong. James E. Clyburn.

Now Clyburn’s Sixth District already was packed with Black voters. That was the trade off our politicians came up with when the district was created. In its infinite wisdom, the South Carolina General Assembly worked its usual magic when redistricting to appease Blacks and white Democrats by creating that particular perk.

I guess the deal was a good one. South Carolina sent its first African American to Congress since Reconstruction, and the Democrats got a highly visible symbol. A few other people got some perks from the deal, but that’s a story for another column.

Back here in South Carolina, the Sixth District’s creation also meant some incumbent S.C. General Assembly members could gerrymander districts to protect their seats. Some powerful white Democrats and some Black Democrats who have been riding on the statehouse gravy train for decades would get to keep their seats in those protected districts.I got a little upset at the last redistricting. I asked why was there not more protest of the redistricting’s gerrymandering. I got some vague responses. It ticked me off, but it was clear that a lot of people, whom I am quite fond of, realized that the redrawn district lines meant they also would be protected. Sure there was a little flap, but not much. I guess that flap came to make things look legit.

Anyway, fast forward to the May 7 election and Democrats are crying that gerrymandering is the culprit in Colbert Busch’s loss. Hell, they knew a Democrat couldn’t win that district in the first place!

What I find encouraging about the election results is that many white Republicans who were caught in the Sixth District gerrymander packing net are ticked off they didn’t get the chance to have their say in the election. I’m encouraged because this election perhaps will force more Republicans to take a good look at what gerrymandering really has meant for them.

Gerrymandering has hurt both Black and white voters. It serves to preserve incumbency that has entrenched representatives and the dysfunctional government we’re all saddled with.

Gerrymandering allows people to stay in office for decades. No new leadership is developed and our representatives become self serving. Unfortunately, gerrymandering takes place at every level of government.

Most recently, voters are disenchanted at legislators’ choices of appointments to college and university boards of trustees. Friends, neighborhors, brothers and others were appointed when equally qualified candidates were cast aside.

Lord help South Carolina State University where those kinds of decisions have really hurt Black students. And in Charleston County no one can figure why Charleston County Council got stuck on a tax increment financing decision for a private developer. The ultimate no-vote was a no brainer, but a couple of councilmen continued to push the issue. Why? I wondering who got paid what.

Gerrymandering and apathy has meant that Black folks have gotten stuck with ineffective leadership. But our white brothers and sisters also share that fate.
There is much to be learned from the Colbert Busch/Sanford special election Hopefully we’ll heed those lessons heading into future elections. 

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