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Safe Seats

 There are two kinds of votes that our elected officials make — political ones and votes of conscience. Too often, especially in today’s hyper-partisan environment, votes are made with the party or a single leader in mind rather than what’s best for the nation.

Such is the case after the Jan. 6 mob insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which caused us last week to call for the resignation of five Republican U.S. congressmen from South Carolina, who didn’t seem to learn anything from the death and violence when they voted against the certified results of state’s Electoral College votes. As we wrote, “They didn’t grasp democracy was under attack or how the riot they helped incite changed everything.”

But then, something happened a few days later as members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump for a second time during his term. One of the five from South Carolina, Rep. Tom Rice of Myrtle Beach, had a change of heart. He noted he’d been a loyal foot soldier for the president through the years, but found Trump’s incitement of the mob to be “inexcusable,” later adding, “I’ve been loyal to him, but he certainly didn’t feel loyal to us.”

Progressives were surprised at Rice’s switch while Trump sycophants were outraged, some already plotting a run against Rice even though the paint isn’t dry on the new Congress.

Rice did what he was supposed to do — cast a vote of conscience. Unfortunately, Rice’s independence was an exception to the norm. And why — besides the endless nattering of social media and the “win at all costs” infection that has become politics? It’s because of gerrymandering, which happens every 10 years after the census to recarve political district lines.

As districts in the U.S. House and state legislatures are redrawn, Republicans in South Carolina have done what parties have done for ages — pack as many of voters for the other party in as few districts as possible to ensure bigger margins of victory and more control. It’s a cynical game that has created two parties within the GOP. In South Carolina, it means Republican elected officials have better reasons to fear hard-right extremists in primaries than Democrats in general elections. It means every election year, a slew of Statehouse races go uncontested because the districts are drawn to kill off Democratic competition. With more right-wing Republicans on the ballot in November, they win more elections, continuing a vicious cycle that partisanizes politics even more and moves the whole legislature more to the right.

And we wonder why there are so many duds in the Statehouse.
For the state and country to get even more partisan is not in anyone’s interest. It chills debate. It limits the marketplace of ideas. It hogties compromise and progress.

So, what Tom Rice’s vote on impeachment should mean to people of all political stripes is that it’s expected of our leaders to have votes of conscience and break away from a mass wrong. And in turn, our leaders at the S.C. Statehouse need to take on redistricting this year with renewed eyes of drawing election districts that are truly fair to all, not to one party. To do otherwise is to foster conditions that helped brew this month’s dangerous insurrection.