How Rep. James Clyburn protected his district at a cost to Black Democrats

By | May 5, 2023

ProPublica reports:

The meeting was arranged in secret. On Nov. 19, 2021, the chief of staff for South Carolina’s Senate Judiciary Committee texted Dalton Tresvant, a key aide to Rep. Jim Clyburn, the state’s most powerful Democrat.

“Hey Dalton – Andy Fiffick here,” he said. “We wrapped up some morning things quicker than we thought, so if you want/can come earlier than 1:30 we’re available.”

The state legislature had begun the crucial task of redrawing voting district lines after the 2020 census. Even small changes in the lines can mean the difference between who wins office, who loses and which party holds power. As the process commenced, Clyburn had a problem: His once majority Black district had suffered a daunting exodus of residents since the last count. He wanted his seat to be made as safe as possible. Republicans understood the powerful Black Democrat could not be ignored, even though he came from the opposing party and had no official role in the state-level process. Fortunately for them, Clyburn, who is 82 and was recently reelected to his 16th term, had long ago made peace with the art of bartering.

Tresvant made his way to the grounds of the antebellum Statehouse, a relic still marked by cannon fire from Sherman’s army. The aide carried a hand-drawn map of Clyburn’s 6th District and presented it to Fiffick and the other Republican committee staffers who were working to reconfigure the state’s congressional boundaries.

Some of Tresvant’s proposals appealed to Republicans. The sketch added Black voters to Clyburn’s district while moving out some predominantly white precincts that leaned toward the GOP. The Republicans kept Tresvant’s map confidential as they worked through the redistricting process for the following two months. They looped in Tresvant again near the end, according to public records obtained by ProPublica.

The resulting map, finalized in January 2022, made Clyburn’s lock on power stronger than it might have been otherwise. A House of Representatives seat that Democrats held as recently as 2018 would become even more solid for the incumbent Republican. This came at a cost: Democrats now have virtually no shot of winning any congressional seat in South Carolina other than Clyburn’s, state political leaders on both sides of the aisle say. [Continue reading…]