Earlier this month, a scathing report from ProPublica noted the apparent betrayal of one of the most trusted and powerful Democratic politicians in America.
South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the so-called king maker and assistant House leader, allegedly sold out his state to Republicans to keep his seat.
ProPublica claimed Clyburn made a secret deal with the GOP during the redistricting process in 2021 that sapped the strength of the all-important Black vote while making it extremely difficult for Democrats to compete for a congressional seat.
ProPublica reported that Clyburn cut the deal to ensure his seat would remain safe.
Though the revelation occurred two weeks ago, Clyburn has mostly remained mum. But rumblings have led many to wonder when he will explain.
As political writer Isaac Bailey wrote, the NAACP sued over the gerrymandered voting map.
Bailey noted that a three-judge federal panel called it a racial gerrymander, and the court determined that it was “effectively impossible” to have moved more than 30,000 Black voters into Clyburn’s district without it.
Further, Bailey observed that the court pushed back against some of the NAACP’s claims by showing that Clyburn had requested some of the changes.
“It’s just one example of the ugly, often-hidden layer of what we keep referring to as a democracy, a term that’s often misapplied given the state of things,” Bailey said. “In a healthy democracy, the people choose their representatives. Increasingly, that’s not what’s happening in ours.”
ProPublica reported on a series of meetings between Clyburn and high-ranking Republicans following the release of the 2020 Census map. They noted that the slightest line changes could determine who wins and holds power.
But as the process commenced, they said 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,” ProPublica wrote.
“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.”
“The resulting map, finalized in January 2022, made Clyburn’s lock on power stronger than it might have been otherwise,” the report stated. “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.
“As others attacked the Republican redistricting as an illegal racial gerrymander, Clyburn said nothing publicly. His role throughout the redistricting process has remained out of the public view, and he has denied any involvement in state legislative decisions.
The report further notes that while it’s been clear that the South Carolina congressman has been a key participant in past state redistricting, “the extent of his role in the 2021 negotiations has not been previously examined.”
ProPublica said they culled their reporting from public records, hundreds of pages of legal filings, and interviews with dozens of South Carolina lawmakers and political experts from both sides of the aisle.
“It’s troubling,” said Daniel Frasier, a longtime Democrat voter from Northeast Washington D.C. “And troubling is putting it mildly. It tells me that any politician can be bought and sold, and it puts my vote in doubt next year,” said Frasier, who took in a Washington Nationals game with Steve Hamilton, who identified as Republican.
“That’s why my father told me a long time ago to really watch and consider which party you align yourself with,” Hamilton said. “I think they all should represent the people honestly and be tough about it. But to make backdoor deals to secure your power and say to ‘heck with my party and my constituents’ sucks. But I expect that from Democrats.”
ProPublica spoke with Bakari Sellers, a former Democratic lawmaker who once served on a redistricting committee.
“There is a very unholy alliance between many Black legislators and their Republican counterparts in the redistricting process,” Sellers told the outlet.
He said Clyburn’s district “is probably one of the best examples.” Moving that many Black voters into Clyburn’s district meant “we eliminate a chance to win” in other districts.
“I’m not saying that we could win, but I’m saying we could be competitive, and people of color, those poor people, those individuals who have been crying out for so long, would have a voice,” Sellers said.
While Clyburn hasn’t said much publicly, a spokesperson acknowledged that the office had “engaged in discussions regarding the boundaries of the 6th Congressional District by responding to inquiries.”
“Any accusation that Congressman Clyburn in any way enabled or facilitated Republican gerrymandering that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred is fanciful,” Clyburn’s office said in a statement, calling the notion a “bizarre conspiracy theory.”