While sitting at a high-top table at Stillwater Taproom on Broad Street in downtown Augusta, enjoying a draft beer and listening to bluegrass music playing in the background, Gould Hagler II proves he’s not your typical mayoral candidate.
At 33, he’s young, energetic and an extremely proud native Augustan who respects his family’s strong ties to the town.
“I grew up in Forest Hills on Lombardy Court in the only house my parents ever owned,” Hagler said. “My mom still lives there. In fact, I was brought home from University Hospital to that house.”
Growing up in his neighborhood off Highland Avenue, Hagler, along with his twin brother and younger sister, thought no other city in the world could be better than Augusta.
“Some of my earliest memories are being about 5 years old and riding our bikes up and down Helen Street with our friends who lived just two doors down from us,” Hagler said. “I knew, even back then, that Augusta was special. So, when I got older and went to Mercer University in Macon for my education, I always knew I wanted to come back and raise my family here. I have known that for a very long time.”
In 2009, Hagler began his insurance career at Sanford, Bruker & Banks in Augusta and, by 2015, he married his wife, Amy, who also is a native Augustan.
“It’s funny because we knew a lot of people in common, but our paths never crossed growing up,” Hagler said. “She is a few years younger than I am. She even used to live down the street from me. In fact, our parents knew each other, but we didn’t. It’s just wild how it worked out. My cousin’s wife actually told me about her.”
From their very first date, Hagler said he knew Amy was the one.
“It was just so comfortable. Even my mom said she knew when she saw us together,” Hagler said. “Three weeks later, I was visiting a friend at the beach and I told him, ‘I’m marrying this girl.’ It just hit me like a ton of bricks. So, six months after our first date, I asked her to marry me. And one year and one day after our first date, we got married. The rehearsal dinner was at the River Room at Saint Paul’s Church, which was where our first date was, and we got married at Good Shepherd.”
In February 2017, the Haglers celebrated the birth of their son, whom they also named Gould.
“I always wanted a little boy that I could name after myself. I guess my family was never very original when it came to names,” Hagler jokingly said.
“I was named after my grandfather, my brother was named after my dad, and I’ve always wanted that same kind of bond. Even when I was little, like 10 years old, I knew I wanted a little boy someday. My dad was one of my best friends, and I wanted a son who could be my best friend, too.”
Unfortunately, his father, Michael Hagler, passed away in 2014 after battling cancer for more than four years.
“It’s still very difficult for me to talk about,” Gould Hagler said, pausing for a moment to collect himself. “I can say, with the birth of my son, I got what I’ve always really wanted in my life. But I really miss my dad.”
Down the road, Gould Hagler says he hopes to have more children in the near future.
“A house filled with kids’ laughter; that’s a fun house. It’s a good house,” Gould Hagler said, showing off pictures of his son. “It’s a happy house.”
But, ironically, while Gould Hagler was thrilled to pass on his name to his son, he admitted that, up until about six months ago, he didn’t know the exact origins of his unique first name.
For most of his life, Gould Hagler simply knew he was named after his beloved 93-year-old grandfather and lifelong resident of Augusta, Gould Barrett Hagler, who sadly passed away last month.
Simply knowing he was named after such a wonderful man in his family was all Gould Hagler II ever really needed.
That was until his son became a part of his family’s legacy last year.
“I decided to look it up so I could one day tell my son about his name because I didn’t really know,” Gould Hagler said, chuckling. “It turns out, one of my ancestors really admired his sister, whose name was Harriet. And her husband’s name was James Gould. So this ancestor of mine named his own son, Harry Gould Barrett.”
“I can only imagine Harry was for his sister, Harriet, and Gould was for his brother-in-law,” he added. “So, that fellow, Harry Gould Barrett, his grandson was my grandfather, Gould Barrett Hagler. That’s where the name comes from.”
While he was researching his family’s lineage, he also discovered James Gould graduated from Yale University, he was a member of the university’s secret Skull and Bones society and had a father who was an extremely prominent judge.
“In fact, the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law is named for the Gould family. They have a very storied history and are very prominent people,” Gould Hagler said, laughing. “However, I’m not blood related to anybody who had Gould as their last name.”
But simply finding that connection to his past was extremely important to him, Gould Hagler said.
“In fact, when I went and Googled the name James Gould, somebody on eBay was selling a picture of him for $20,” Gould Hagler said. “I was sitting in my grandfather’s house and I told him, ‘You’ll never guess what I found,’ and I showed him the photo. He immediately said, ‘You should buy that,’ so I did. And now, I have a picture of my non-blood related uncle in my house that I can show my son to help explain where we got our name from.”
When it comes to the upcoming Augusta mayoral election on May 22, Gould Hagler is also hoping voters will remember his unique name when they head to the polls.
So far, he is the only candidate who has stepped forward and announced he will run against incumbent Mayor Hardie Davis.
Not long after finishing college, Gould Hagler said he felt a drive to run for public office.
“When I moved back to Augusta about 10 years ago, things weren’t going well with our government at the time, and I sort of felt a calling,” Gould Hagler said. “It’s tough to explain.”
He felt so strongly about it that he sat down and talked to his new boss at Sanford, Bruker & Banks in 2009 about his future political ambitions.
“I told my employer, ‘I feel pulled and called to do this,’” Gould Hagler said. “My employer said, ‘I’ll support you.’ It was amazing because he had just hired me like two months before. It meant the world to me.”
Gould Hagler also got the opportunity to discuss his desire to run for political office with his father about nine years ago.
“Back then, my dad said, ‘Son, you have got to get work and build your business,’” Gould Hagler said. “At the time, my book of business was at zero. When I began in insurance, I did not get handed any book of clients. I started at the very bottom. So, I took my father’s advice and concentrated on work.”
While building his insurance business, Gould Hagler decided to begin volunteering at several local organizations, including serving as the past vice president of the Imperial Theatre and on the boards of Sacred Heart Cultural Center and Historic Augusta.
“I felt good about those things because I was always told that you give your time, talent and treasure to help because when you are blessed, you should give back,” Gould Hagler said. “But back then, I was only 25 and just starting out in my career, so I told all of those people, ‘I have no treasure.’ But I told them that I had time and talent and I could give those things as long as they didn’t ask for a check. And they were more than happy to oblige and allow me to serve.”
By the time he met his wife, he warned Amy that he was interested in eventually running for public office.
“I told her while we were dating that I thought that I was being called to public service,” Gould Hagler said. “It was something that I learned about myself when I lived in Boston, before I moved back to Augusta.”
He went to Boston to attend law school because he was thinking of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming an attorney.
“That didn’t really work out,” Gould Hagler said, smiling. “But when I got to Boston, I realized I wanted to do something and give my time to other folks. That started a whole new chapter for me.”
Now, almost a decade after moving back to Augusta and having established a strong insurance business, Gould Hagler said he has finally decided to ask Augustans to support his dream of becoming the next mayor of the Garden City.
“My reputation is everything to me. My grandfather worked really, really hard to build a good reputation, and I never, ever want to do anything to tarnish it,” Gould Hagler said. “So it’s a lot of pressure. But I know I can do it.”
Gould Hagler said he is the perfect candidate to understand the city’s past and see its great potential for the future.
“When I started working downtown 10 years ago, most nights you could be driving home and there would be plenty of parking spaces,” He said. “Now, downtown is jam packed every night. Growth is everywhere.”
Whether it’s the construction of the new Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center on the banks of the Savannah River, the continuous growth of the medical district or the expansion of Fort Gordon, Gould Hagler said Augusta is booming.
But it still has some major challenges, such as a community that is deeply divided over the future of James Brown Arena and the possible redevelopment of the former Regency Mall site in south Augusta.
“That is a touchy subject nowadays,” Gould Hagler said about the proposed $120 million arena.
“I can understand why people would want the arena to stay downtown because it has been downtown for so long. People are familiar with it being there. It gets to be emotional because people think of all of the bands that they’ve seen over the years in the arena. In fact, I remember one of the best concerts I’ve ever saw was Reba McEntire in that arena. But you can’t let nostalgia stop a city’s progress.”
However, Gould Hagler said he has deep concerns over the former Regency Mall site off Gordon Highway.
“The Regency Mall site, in my opinion, is sort of being held hostage by its owners, the Cardinale family,” he said. “They want a fortune for it, and we don’t tax them anywhere near what they think it’s worth.”
Building a new $120 million arena on the site would make the owners happy, but Gould Hagler fears it wouldn’t help future development in south Augusta.
“I compare that site to Lakewood Amphitheatre in Atlanta,” he said. “They have this amazing, awesome amphitheater. I’ve seen Jimmy Buffett there like eight times. I think it seats almost 19,000 people. But I learned in college that, that amphitheater was put in a bad part of town. In fact, that part of town was so bad that they changed the name of the street that you turn off of to get to the amphitheater because locals knew it was not a good part of town.”
While the Lakewood Amphitheatre might be easily accessible for patrons like the Regency Mall location, it is also quickly deserted after concerts, he said.
“The ease of getting in and out does not make a difference at Lakewood Amphitheatre because it still doesn’t have a good reputation,” he said. “Even after that amphitheater has been there all this time and brought in world-class shows, it doesn’t mean that that section of town turns around over night. In fact, Atlanta is still kind of waiting for that part of town to turn.”
“I clearly remember, nobody hung out there after concerts,” he added. “We would all go into downtown Atlanta instead.”
Gould Hagler believes Augusta really needs to focus on its incredible natural assets and promote those throughout the community.
“One of the activities that I like to do, which is actually frowned upon by some people in town, is my friends and I like to go tubing down the Augusta Canal,” Gould Hagler said. “From the Savannah Rapids Pavilion down to the GreenJackets stadium is about a three-hour float trip. The only catch is, you have to do it when it’s 100 degrees outside because that water is so ice cold. But it’s a blast.”
Unfortunately, every time that he heads down to the canal to go tubing with friends, some observers object, he said.
“People drive to the Chattahoochee River to go tubing. They drive up to Helen, Ga., to do it,” Gould Hagler said. “Why can’t we do it here? I mean, it is a wonderful resource. It is a perfect use for it.”
But he says people always insist that they aren’t allowed to go tubing in the canal because of the possibility of drowning.
“A few years ago, after people objected to us tubing down the canal, a buddy of mine said, ‘Hey Gould, let’s just go to river.’ Well, that same group said, ‘You can’t swim in the river, either. It’s illegal,’” Gould Hagler said, smiling. “I just looked at them and said, ‘For three months in the summertime, our triathlon group, which includes a sitting county commissioner and the mayor sometimes, swim down the river at 6:30 a.m. every Saturday morning. I don’t know the legality of it, but if somebody wanted to have a field day, they could take us all to jail. And they can find exactly where we are. We’re swimming in the river every Saturday morning.”
As an avid outdoorsman and a triathlete, Gould Hagler believes Augusta needs to explore new outdoor recreational opportunities for visitors and residents throughout the CSRA.
“I love outdoor activities. That’s how I enjoy life,” Gould Hagler said. “And with our beautiful weather, we have so much to offer. I want to look at all the possibilities.”
Of course, being a native of Richmond County, Gould Hagler is also well aware of the dangers of Augusta politics.
One of the major divisions that still stands in the way of a strong future is existing racial tensions among some city leaders.
When asked if he is concerned about being labeled the “white candidate” who is challenging Hardie Davis, the city’s first African-American mayor since consolidation, Gould Hagler said he simply doesn’t see it that way.
“You are not the first person to ask me that question. And there is no real great way to answer it without making a racial issue out of it,” Gould Hagler honestly stated. “But in my opinion, that kind of stuff doesn’t have a place in our politics anymore. Not in 2018. Not for somebody like me who is 33.”
And, despite what some people might think, Gould Hagler says he’s not the “white candidate from the Hill.”
“People don’t mean to, but they judge people by the color of their skin,” he said. “You would have no idea that my grandparents, on my mother’s side, were Hispanic. My grandfather came to America from Mexico. His name was Jesus Aranda. He didn’t speak a lick of English. He actually learned English in the U.S. Army.”
In fact, Aranda served in the Army for 25 years, fought in both the Korea and Vietnam wars and received two bronze stars for his service in Ground Operations Against Hostile Forces.
“He was eventually stationed at Fort Gordon and raised my mother and her siblings in their home in south Augusta,” Gould Hagler said, adding that Aranda passed away in 2011. “But you would never tell by looking at me that my grandparents were Hispanic. But I’m very proud of what my mother’s parents did. For my grandfather to come over here and immediately sign up to volunteer for service to a country that wasn’t his, makes me very proud. He was a very good man.”
For that reason, Gould Hagler hopes that voters take the time to get to know each candidate and not jump to conclusions.
“I am not viewing this at all as a black/white thing. Not at all,” Gould Hagler said. “This is just about what I want to do to help Augusta.”
For him, the future of Augusta-Richmond County means everything, Gould Hagler said.
“I sincerely hope when my son grows up that this city is a place that he can say, ‘Look at what my dad did to make it better,’” Gould Hagler said, smiling. “And I sincerely hope that Augusta is a place where he wants to come back and raise his family. That’s why I’m in this. For his future.”