Shay Hawkins watched former President Donald Trump endorse Max Miller in the race for the Republican nomination in a northeast Ohio congressional district — and he decided to run anyway.
Hawkins, who is black and wheelchair bound, is the president of a trade association that promotes opportunity zones. Hawkins also is a former aide to South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and former Ohio Rep. Jim Renacci, who is running for governor. Those credentials are plenty good, as is Hawkins’s personal story. But this is Ohio, where grassroots Republicans revere Trump, and the former president’s choice in this Cleveland-area seat is Miller, his former aide in the White House.
That’s a high political hurdle to leap. But Hawkins isn’t discouraged, telling the Washington Examiner this month: “I’m going to win the primary.”
Hawkins and Miller are slated to run in the new 16th Congressional District, which is essentially replacing the old 13th Congressional District that is being vacated by Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who is on the outs with Trump after voting to impeach him early last year. However, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected the map drawn by the Ohio Redistricting Commission in decennial reapportionment, and changes are forthcoming that might affect the primary.
Hawkins, 47, is waging his first campaign for Congress, but not his first campaign.
In 2020, the attorney and tax policy expert sought a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives. Hawkins, who has an MBA from Columbia, campaigned for a Democratic, Cleveland-area district that overlaps the seat he expects to be running in for Congress this year. Hawkins said his defeat at the hands of the black incumbent Democrat had a silver lining: He lost by only 2 percentage points and garnered 20% of the black vote.
With those results in hand, Hawkins said he is confident that he can convince Republican voters in northeast Ohio that he would be a stronger general election candidate than Miller.
“I am not running this race against Max Miller. I am running because I am the absolute best candidate to serve the district — one; and two, to win that general election,” Hawkins said. “When I ran in 2020 and outperformed what any Republican should have done in that district.”
“I didn’t come hat-in-hand apologizing for being a conservative. I ran hand-in-glove with the Trump campaign,” he added. “I used my platform to advance America first policies and Trump personally. I have a record as a team player.”
For professional bona fides, Hawkins points to his work as Scott’s tax and trade counsel.
The senator was intimately involved in the negotiation of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the 1.3 trillion overhaul of the federal tax code enacted by Trump in late 2017, and Hawkins advised him throughout and even helped write portions of the legislation having to do with opportunity zones (communities designated for special tax relief to spur jobs and economic investment).
“Ohio lags the country in job creation, and Northeast Ohio lags the rest of Ohio, so I am especially positioned to deal with the community’s biggest need,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins’s personal story is more compelling.
His full first name is Shafron. Hawkins was named for the doctor who treated his mother for cancer while she was pregnant with him and, he says, was the reason why she survived the disease and he was born healthy. Years later, in 2009, Hawkins was driving from New York to Cleveland when his car hit a patch of black ice. He skidded 50 feet off the highway and hit a tree. Only the cold saved him from bleeding to death.
Initially paralyzed above and below the waist as a result of the accident, Hawkins eventually regained mobility in his upper body, an outcome he credits to the doctors and therapists who “didn’t give up on me.”
“That caused me to not give up on myself,” Hawkins said. “This community has always been there for me.”