Gilbert Mayor Randy Clamp is warning neighbors to be ready for some unfamiliar names on the ballot at the June 12 Republican primary ballot.
The change is an unwelcome surprise for his community of nearly 600 residents in central Lexington County, he said, who for the past decade has been represented by well-known Republican Sen. Jake Knotts.
“We’re dealing with strangers,” Clamp said. “It’s a big shake-up.”
His town is one of many municipalities and neighborhoods in the Midlands who are living in a changed political landscape, as a new set of boundaries for congressional and legislative districts come into use for the next decade.
Gilbert sits in the middle of a triangular area between U.S. 378 and I-20, previously represented by Knotts, who lives near West Columbia.
But it’s the area where Knotts challenger Katrina Shealy had the greatest support in her first race against the veteran legislator in 2008.
So the area that includes Gilbert was moved elsewhere — at Knotts’ request.
The area now is in the eastern edge of a largely rural district stretching across Edgefield, McCormick, Aiken and Saluda counties.
And it is represented by Sen. Shane Massey, who lives 45 miles west in Edgefield.
He is running for re-election against another Republican equally unknown in Gilbert.
Getting familiar with central Lexington County is “almost like starting over and running that first campaign again,” said Massey, a lawyer first elected to the Senate in 2007.
He made headlines last year for railing against three state agencies that quietly racked up deficits without the General Assembly’s knowledge.
Massey now is in the middle of a fight to form a new Department of Administration — a move supporters say would save millions annually.
“Spending has always been a top issue for me and it will continue to be,” Massey said. “I’ve tried my best to change the way we do things and trying to move away from the status quo.”
Those themes are similar to ones sounded by Knotts, although the pair often differ on details.
Knotts also is known for careful attention to requests for help with problems.
“We’ve known him forever,” said Raymond Boozer, a former leader of the 54-year-old county Peach Festival held each 4th of July.
Signs promoting Knotts and Shealy festoon the Gilbert area even though no one there can vote for either.
“Many of us just assumed we were still in that district,” Boozer said.
New ball game
The discovery of the change affecting Gilbert is one of several rippling across the Midlands as June’s primary ballot approaches.
Besides changes in several State Senate districts, the borders of the area’s pair of U.S. House districts are somewhat different.
The 6th District represented by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn has expanded into new parts of Richland County while the area in the 2nd District represented by U.S. Joe Wilson has shrunk.
Rebecca Munnerlyn, former president of the Rosewood Community Council, said she was not aware that the neighborhood on the south edge of Columbia now has a new congressman.
It is now in Clyburn’s district instead of Wilson’s.
“I was aware of the whole redistricting process going on, but I didn’t know the change affected Rosewood,” Munnerlyn said.
She doubts the switch will cause problems.
“I guess we just need to make sure the awareness is out there and Rosewood neighbors know about the change and get out and vote,” Munnerlyn said.
Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat and U.S. House leader, is running unopposed. Wilson, R-Springdale, has primary opposition but no Democrat awaiting in the fall ballot.
Changes affecting Midlands districts for the S.C. House are minor compared to the S.C. Senate.
Major population growth and shifts in the past decade – including significant growth in Charlotte suburbs and along the coast – meant several more counties and precincts than usual are split.
In addition, remapping is always political, as incumbents seek to design districts favorable to themselves.
Challenges by some Democrats to remapping changes settled on by the Republican-controlled Legislature failed, and the changes won the approval of U.S. Justice officials.
Lexington Mayor Randy Halfacre can sympathize with his counterparts in Gilbert, 12 miles west of his town.
His four-mile drive from home to his job at the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce takes him through three State Senate districts dividing the community of 18,000 residents.
Town Hall is just inside the district that Massey represents while county offices across the street are in the one where Knotts is the incumbent.
Massey is visiting the town to start building relationships as he awaits the ballot showdown with primary election challenger John Pettigrew from the Aiken area.
The fragmentation of Lexington may confuse and anger some residents but it’s beneficial for the community overall, Halfacre said.
“Politics is a numbers game where the more people on your side, the better,” he said. “Having three on your side is better than one.”
Source: The State