One of the biggest local contests on the Tuesday Democratic primary ballot is newcomer Gregory Hill’s effort to unseat longtime state Rep. Henry “Wayne” Howard.
House District 124 takes in most of north Augusta-Richmond County along Washington Road, follows the riverfront east to Gordon Highway then hooks west almost to Barton Chapel Road.
With no Republicans in the race, the winner of the Democratic primary will likely be going to Atlanta. Hill, despite a limited campaign war chest, said he’s up for the challenge.
Raised in Augusta’s Allen Homes housing project and a graduate of Lucy C. Laney High School, Hill, 45, is now a retired Army officer with a political science degree from South Carolina State University, a master’s in business administration from Troy University and is a Certified Economic Development Finance Professional.
Along the way, Hill was married to state court judge candidate Monique Walker, making him the father of former Sen. Charles Walker’s 8- and9-year-old granddaughters.
Hill said he envisioned District 124’s Central Avenue, Laney-Walker Boulevard, Harrisburg and downtown Augusta/15th Street corridor as “the economic engine of the entire CSRA – not just housing, but small businesses.” He said he had the skills to make that happen.
As a legislator, Hill said he’ll push for incentives to attract the type of businesses – those with military ties, for instance – that the area needs.
In the General Assembly, Hill said he’ll also make himself available to Richmond County Board of Education, the Augusta Commission and Mayor Hardie Davis, whom he’ll ask, “what do you need from State Representative Hill,” he said.
He disagrees with the November referendum allowing state takeover of failing schools, but said the school system needs to face its issues locally.
“I don’t feel as though I need someone to come in and clean up my house,” Hill said, “but we cannot be afraid to identify the elephant in the room. We cannot be afraid to say who’s not doing their job.”
For his part, Howard said at a recent forum that he shares Hill’s sentiments about the referendum and on raising the minimum wage.
The chairman for several years of the Augusta legislative delegation said he seeks re-election on his record of service.
That includes five two-year terms in the House seat inherited from his father, the late Rep. Henry Howard, with whom he worked closely for many years.
Bills he’s sponsored or co-sponsored include the “Too Young to Suspend” Act, dedicating the Rosa T. Beard Memorial Bridge over 15th Street and more than 30 other commendations or recognitions during the last session.
Howard reported raising $12,505 for this campaign as of March 31, with the largest donations being $1,000 from Tutt Contracting of Harlem and the Civil Justice Political Action Committee, while Hill had just over $1,200.
One local political observer said while Hill poses a slight challenge to Howard, the elder lawmaker’s longevity and background resonate with older residents.
“I think Wayne is better known, and older people – they’re more likely to come out and vote,” said businessman and political observer J.R. Riles. “A lot of people respected Wayne’s daddy. He played a great part of the community when he was living.”
Augusta Democrats, regardless of who they are, have a limited role as long as the state’s governor is a Republican, but Hill has a future in Richmond County politics regardless, Riles said.
“I think Gregory Hill is an ambitious young man, and eventually he’ll be a politician,” he said.