Beaufort County Politics - An Overview
South Carolina has had seven constitutions dating back to 1776. In 1970, most articles of the 1895 version were rewritten, and the document continues to be amended as a living document.
The General Assembly consists of a Senate of 46 members, elected for four-year terms, and a House of Representatives of 124 members, elected for two-year terms.
Statewide Elected Offices include:
Secretary of State
Superintendent of Education
Each of these positions is elected to four-year terms in odd-numbered years following a presidential election. After the 2014 election, several changes were made to the statewide office positions: Governor and Lt. Governor now run as one slate of candidates as opposed to two separate candidates, and Adjunct General was moved to an appointed position from its previous elected status.
Legislative sessions are held biennially (lasting two years, occurring every two years) beginning in January. Special sessions may be called by a vote of two-thirds of the members of each House. Bills may be introduced in either legislative body, except for revenue measures that must originate in the House of Representatives. The Governor has veto power over any bill, but it may be overridden by a two-thirds vote of each house in the legislature. Bills automatically become law, if the Governor takes no action after the bill has been sent to his desk. State constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of each House of the General Assembly and a majority of those casting ballots at the next general election. After the popular vote, the proposed amendment needs to be ratified by a majority vote of the General Assembly for it to become law.
Politically, South Carolina has been governed by a strong legislature. Prior to 1993, the Governor picked their own cabinet (and approved by the legislature), but a constitutional amendment required that many of the positions be elected, allowing for several different political parties to be represented.
South Carolina has two major political organizations – Democrat and Republican parties. From the post-Civil War era, the Democratic Party dominated state politics. The state’s population disagreed with the Democrat Party’s position on civil rights resulting in the creation of a new political party entitled, the States’ Rights Democratic Party led by then-Governor Strom Thurmond in 1948. In 1964, then-Senator Strom Thurmond switched his allegiance to the Republican Party which led to Republican Party domination in the state.
In South Carolina, voters do not register according to a political party. Voters can vote in either the Democrat or Republican primary and need to attest that they have only participated in one party’s primary. There are 3,232,032 registered voters (2016) in South Carolina, of which 1.72 million are women, and 886,257 are African-American. There is a total of 2240 voting precincts; Beaufort County has 92 precincts with a total of 118,035 registered voters.
The next US Senate election in South Carolina will be held on November 3, 2020; the seat is currently held by Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Following that, November 8, 2022, is the date for the election of the 2nd SC Senator; the seat is currently held by Tim Scott (R-SC).
There are currently seven (7) United States Congressional Districts in South Carolina. There have been as few as four and as many as nine districts throughout time. The 8th and 9th Congressional Districts were lost after the 1840 Census. After the 2010 Census, South Carolina regained its 7th District due to the exponential growth in the state’s population. The 5th and 6th Congressional Districts were briefly lost after the Civil War but had been regained by the 1880 Census. In November 2018, Republicans won five of the seven South Carolina Congressional seats.
The First Congressional District of South Carolina is in the southeastern portion of the state – stretching along the eastern coast of South Carolina from Seabrook Island to the North Carolina border. The District includes large portions of Beaufort and Charleston counties plus smaller portions of Berkeley, Colleton, and Dorchester counties. In November 2018, Joe Cunningham was the first Democratic to win this Congressional seat after more than 40 years of it being held by Republicans.
State Legislative Delegation
Following the 2018 elections, South Carolina is one of 25 Republican state government trifectas, meaning that the Republican Party controls the governorship, the State Senate, and the House of Representatives.
The South Carolina Senate is the upper house of the South Carolina General Assembly (or Legislature). It consists of 46 Senators, elected from single-member districts for four-year terms at the same time as the United States Presidential Elections. Each member represents an average of 100,551 residents. There are no term limits for the Senators. As of 2017, there are 28 Republicans and 18 Democrats serving in the SC Senate. All Seats are up for re-election in 2020.
There are 3 South Carolina Senate seats that include portions of Beaufort County:
District 43 – George Campsen (R)
-Portions of Beaufort, Charleston, and Colleton Counties
District 45 – Margie Bright Matthews (D)
-Portions of Allendale, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper Counties
District 46 – Thomas C. Davis (R)
-Portions of Beaufort and Jasper Counties
House of Representatives:
The South Carolina House of Representatives is the lower house of the South Carolina Assembly. It consists of 124 Representatives, elected to serve two-year terms at the same time as the Congressional elections. Each member represents an average of 37,301 residents as of the 2010 Census. 78 Members of the House are Republicans and 42 are Democratic with 4 vacancies. There are no term limits for this position. All the seats are up for re-election in 2020.
There are six State Representative Districts that intersect with Beaufort County:
State Representative 118 – William G. “Bill” Herbkersman (R)
-Portions of Beaufort and Jasper Counties
State Representative 120 – William Weston J. Newton (R)
-Portions of Beaufort and Jasper Counties
State Representative 121 – Michael Rivers, Sr. (D)
-Portions of Beaufort and Colleton Counties
State Representative 122 – Shedron Williams (D)
-Portions of Beaufort, Hampton, and Jasper Counties
State Representative 123 – Jeffrey A. “Jeff” Bradley (R)
-Portions of Beaufort County
State Representative 124 – Shannon S. Erickson (R)
-Portions of Beaufort County
Local Politics - Counties
South Carolina has 46 counties, 270 municipal governments, 90 public school districts, and 301 special districts of various types. Ten regional councils provide a broad range of technical and advisory services to county and municipal governments. Under legislation enacted in 1975, all counties and municipalities have the same powers, regardless of size. Most municipalities operate under the mayor-council or city manager system; more than half the counties have a county administrator or manager. Each county has a council or commission, attorney, auditor, clerk of court, coroner, tax collector, treasurer, and sheriff. Many of these county officials are elected.
In 1975, South Carolina passed the Home Rule Act, because many state legislators districts crossed county lines. The Home Rule Act created county councils for each of the SC counties that are independent of the SC General Assembly. Legally, the county is a creation of state government. Counties have only those powers and duties authorized by the laws which affect all counties, or by specific statutes that affect individual counties.
As of the 2010 Census, the population of Beaufort totaled 162,233 (48 percent male/52 percent female). The country seat is the town of Beaufort. Beaufort County is considered part of the Hilton Head-Bluffton-Beaufort Metropolitan Statistical Area. It is one of the South’s fastest-growing counties, primarily due to development along the 278 (Highway) corridor. There is also a strong federal military presence around the city of Beaufort. The county is divided into two and connected by the Broad River Bridge – creating “north of Broad” and “south of Broad” distinctions. The County is 75 percent White, 19 percent Black, 1.8 percent Asian, and 7 percent Hispanic. The median household income in 2015 was $56,079. Beaufort County is made up of 24 islands, 9 unincorporated communities, and 4 towns,
The county of Beaufort is run by a County Council comprised of 11 Districts. County council members are partisan and serve four-year terms. Beaufort County operates under the Council-Administrator form of government. Under this form of government, the Council may hire a professional administrator to carry out Council policy. The Council has the power to dismiss the appointed administrator, although it cannot dismiss employees hired by the administrator. Under this form of government, the County Treasurer and County Auditor are elected officials. In addition to the Treasurer and County Auditor, there are five additional elected offices in the County of Beaufort:
*Clerk of the Court
*14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office
Board of Education:
The Beaufort County Board of Education is a nonpartisan board that consists of 11 members elected to four-year terms. They serve staggered terms and each member represents a specific geographic district. It is the 10th largest school district in South Carolina and serves over 21,000 students. The United States Census Bureau found that 38.8 percent of county residents aged 25 years and older had attained a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 25.8 percent of state residents. The median household income in the county was $57,048, compared to $45,483 for the entire state. County residents lived below the poverty level at a rate of 12.9 percent, while that rate was 15.3 percent for all state residents. There are a total of 30 schools in the District.
Other: There are 7 elected members of the PSD Board of Commissioners, elected to four-year terms from four separate voting districts within the PSD service area.
Ther Beaufort Soil and Water Conservation District includes three elected Commissioners (and 2 appointed Commissioners). The elected Commissioners are elected during the Federal election cycle and are non-partisan positions.
Local Politics - Towns
Beaufort is a city in Beaufort County and the capital of the county seat. The city is governed by a 5-member-at-large council, including the Mayor.
Bluffton is a town in Beaufort County. The town's original one square mile area, now known as Old Town, is situated on a bluff along the May River. Bluffton is the fastest-growing municipality in South Carolina with a population over 2,500, growing 882.7% between the 2000 and 2010 census. Bluffton is the fifth largest municipality in South Carolina by land area. There are five elected position in Bluffton consisting of a Mayor and four Town Council members. They are nonpartisan and serve four-year terms elected in November of odd years.
Hilton Head Island is a town and barrier island in Beaufort County. The year-round population was 37,099 at the 2010 census, although during the peak of summer vacation season the population can swell to 150,000. Over the past decade, the island's population growth rate was 32%. There are seven nonpartisan elected positions governing Hilton Head, including a Mayor and six Town Council positions. They serve four-year staggered terms and are elected within the Congressional election schedule. In addition, there are seven elected members of the Public Service District governing water resources in the middle part of the Island. They serve four-year staggered terms and are elected within the Congressional election schedule.
Daufuskie Island is located between Hilton Head Island and Savannah and is the southernmost inhabited sea island in South Carolina. It is 5 miles long by almost 2.5 miles wide. It has a full-time population of 648 people. The Daufuskie Island Council serves as the official voice between Daufuskie and the County. Members are elected by island residents and property owners. There are nine elected positions that serve four-year staggered terms. Elections are held yearly on the second Saturday in February.
Port Royal is a town governed by a 5-member at large town council including the Mayor.
Fripp Island has elections.