An engineer, pastor and for seven years a state legislator, Sen. Hardie Davis says he’ll bring legislative experience and the ability to compromise to city government if elected mayor May 20.
“I have already developed the reputation as someone who is willing to work with anyone; someone who is willing to get involved in the issues that matter to the state of Georgia and ultimately to Augusta,” Davis said during an interview with The Augusta Chronicle, citing legislative success in juvenile justice, the Transportation Investment Act, vehicle ad valorem tax reform and the merger of Augusta’s two universities.
“I’ve been willing to work across aisles and get things done that matter to this community, and do things in a transformative way that help people,” he said.
Q: Consolidation of Georgia Health Sciences University and Augusta State University upset a great number of people. If you had been university president, what would you do differently?
A: There are a lot of people who were upset, primarily about the naming of the institution. When people look at the enterprise that's been created and … what its long-term impact will be to this community and ultimately to the state of Georgia, people are going to be pleased, and they are pleased with that.
Had I been in the unique position of president, I would have done more to engage the citizens of this community up front, in terms of what we want the university to look like in Augusta, but also in what we see Georgia Regents University being to the world.
Q: There are still some folks in Augusta convinced that Athens and the Board of Regents are going to steal the medical college eventually and relocate it there.
A: I think we've averted that. When you look at the fact that we've now created the state's fourth major research institution ... Our former senator, now U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver, led the charge to make sure that we stood strong against that idea of siphoning off resources here in Augusta and taking them to Athens...
I am confident that the consolidation takes us from what historically were viewed as two community colleges – these are conversations I’ve heard all across the legislature – and we've now created an institution that folks look for an opportunity to invest in.
Q: How will you use your office to raise the bar for educational systems – the high schools, the elementary schools – so our students are able to take advantage of the opportunities at GRU?
A: One of the things that I look forward to doing first is strengthening the partnerships between the mayor's office, the commission and the school board...
Here again, as an engineer, as someone who's had advanced degrees, advanced education, it is vitally important for us to one, deal with the dropout rate in our school system, and then deal with the graduation rate by providing our students with opportunities.
Q: City government has been described as dysfunctional; what could you do about that, given the limitations of the office as mayor?
A: When you look at how our local government has operated, there have certainly been moments of dysfunction. I come from a legislature where we don't fight; we don't publicly embarrass employees; we don't do things like that on the floor of the legislature.
Most of the heavy lifting that goes on from a government standpoint should happen in the committee process. I am not convinced that the committees are being utilized as they should be...
People talk about, well the mayor doesn't have any power. I think that is a divisive statement in and of itself, where people hover around the pendulum of this notion of power when in reality what we look for is shared responsibility. At the end of the day, the buck should stop with the mayor the mayor is the CEO of this great city.
Q: What makes you want to go from being a state lawmaker to Augusta mayor?
A: My reason for running is a very simple reason. When I've come to this community, I've listened to the senior citizens, I've listened to the young families, I've listened to the students in our schools who said, “Sen. Davis we have no hope for what's going on in our community. We're tired of the dysfunction. We see the fighting, we see the divisiveness along the lines of race.”
And we spend so much of our time majoring in the minors. As I’ve looked at those things... When I left Augusta and went to the legislature I was very clear I said I did not want to ... become a career politician and serve 20, 30, 40 years in Atlanta. I have no interest in that.
Q: If we look back on your tenure as mayor, what three things will we say were the mark of your term?
A: In our first term, in fact, in our first 100 days, in what we call our Move Augusta strategy, we’ll bring key stakeholders to the table. Freight, transport and rail. I would like Augusta to become the state's second inland logistics port.
Cordele was the first inland port as a result of the planned Savannah Harbor expansion project. As we talk about widening the Panama Canal and the Panamax ships coming in the U.S., Augusta is uniquely situated to become an inland logistics port...
The second thing that we look forward to doing is looking for opportunity to promote accountability and transparency where government is concerned... As the next mayor of Augusta, I'll look forward to having regular mayor's office hours in the districts.
Q: Do you support special purpose local option sales tax 7?
A: Yes I do. I support the special purpose local option sales tax for this reason... it is an opportunity to enhance the quality of life for all of our citizens in this county. I support the special purpose local option sales tax because it is an opportunity for us to have others come to this community and invest in this city as well without it being a new tax on our citizens.
I support the special purpose local option sales tax because there are in fact some good projects in there that allow us to do the things I've talked about in terms of public safety. There are projects in there that allow our sheriff to be more in depth in terms of community policing...
Q: What is your opinion of Augusta Regional Collaboration Project's Mills Campus proposal?
A: There's a lot of interest in the mills campus. As the next mayor of Augusta, I want to see private investment to the table first. Government has a role in these projects; government has a role in growing our city. But until we bring private investment to the table, we're going to put an undue burden on local government...
Q: You stated in a recent forum that the city didn't need a bully; it needed a statesman, which was basically a dig at Alvin Mason. Can you elaborate?
A: The comment ... was in direct correlation to how individuals operate currently as a commissioner. You can't take city employees and publicly humiliate them or embarrass them on the floor of the commission. It is unprofessional, it is uncalled for. That is not diplomacy. That is not how we engage.
Q: What did you think about how the firing of Fred Russell was handled?
A: Again, that was a situation where it had been discussed for years... Clearly, it was on the minds of commissioners, because not only did they have a majority to vote for the firing and dismissal of Fred Russell, but also it was across racial lines.
While all of that's true, it could have and should have been handled differently. It was another moment of “gotcha,” of public embarrassment for our city, for our employees and certainly as it relates to Fred Russell.