Residents of Horry and Georgetown counties raised concerns about representation for their communities and asked that Horry County be the seat of a new seventh congressional district that would include Georgetown County and the Pee Dee at a public hearing Monday night.
The hearing, one of 10 being held throughout the state by the S.C. Senate redistricting subcommittee, was an opportunity for residents to give recommendations to the senators as they determine the redistricting criteria prior to redrawing the maps.
"We were interested, with such a rapidly growing area, how people see themselves as a community," said Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, the chairman of the subcommittee.
The meeting focused both on state Senate districts, which will each have to represent about 100,552 residents, and the new seventh U.S. congressional district, which will represent about 660,767 residents.
Some residents rose to speak about their individual communities and the need for state senators that are responsive to their needs.
Dennis DiSabato, speaking on behalf of the Carolina Forest Civic Association, said that it should be considered a community of interest as the new district lines are drawn.
"Carolina Forest is a very unique area of Horry County," he said. "I would just ask that you consider keeping Carolina Forest within a senatorial district that is attuned to its very special needs."
Vincent Lehotsky, who lives in the Allsbrook community, said that he believes the current representation doesn't pay enough attention to the rural part of the district because of the demands of North Myrtle Beach and Little River. He suggested separating the coastal areas from the inland part of the district.
"The representation is uneven," he said. "Please keep us in mind. We're a different group of people out here with the farms and the fields."
Charlie Luquire said he wants the core of the 34th S.C. Senate district, which runs along the coast from the southern part of Horry County to the Mount Pleasant area in Charleston county, to be preserved.
"We'd like to see that sort of preserved to maintain the integrity of the political alignments that are in place," he said.
Luquire also said that as a resident of Georgetown County he feels he shares more interests with Horry County than with Charleston County.
Steven Neeves, the government affairs director of the Coastal Carolinas Association of Realtors, said that based on the population growth in the area Horry County should be the center of the new seventh congressional district and urged the senators to keep Horry County and Georgetown County in the same district.
"Our economies and our culture and our history is so connected, and I think that Horry and Georgetown need to be kept together," he said.
Rep. Thad Viers, R-Myrtle Beach, suggested to the subcommittee that they draw the new seventh district centered in Horry County and modeled after the old sixth district.
He said that west of the waterway much of Horry County is farmland that shares interests with the Pee Dee counties, that were in that former sixth district.
"I think there's a map to use for both sides, for both parties, that would fit for the state of South Carolina," Viers said. "It would be fair to both parties."
Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, who is a member of the subcommittee, said that he had forgotten that the Pee Dee and the Grand Strand had been joined as part of the former sixth district.
Cleary said he heard all the requests to have Horry County as the center of a congressional seat but added that speakers at each of the other hearings he has attended on redistricting have also wanted a resident congressman.
McConnell said that one of the notable pieces of information he picked up was from what speakers didn't say, which is that the Grand Strand should stay in the same congressional district as Charleston.
"The problem we will face in map drawing is that there is rapid and tremendous growth all along the coast and York County," he said.
Next week the subcommittee should meet to establish the redistricting criteria and will proceed to draw maps and seek further public input on specific plans as the process continues, McConnell said.