On the afternoon of August 29, students filled up history teacher Brian Ely’s classroom to inform themselves and learn about local politics at a very special Young Democrats meeting. There to speak to them was Matthew Wilson, District 80’s Democratic nominee for the State House Representatives.
On November 6 of this year Wilson will be facing off against incumbent Republican Meagan Hanson to try and win a seat in the State House to represent District 80.
“[The district] covers about 99% of Brookhaven, a very small portion of Chamblee, and this weird, jigsaw piece of Sandy Springs, which is essentially Roswell Road east to Brookhaven,” he said. “It is a very strangely drawn district, but a good district nonetheless.”
Prior to this election, Wilson practiced law for the past five years and before that he was a middle school teacher. He was prompted to get into this election by Taylor Bennett, the former District 80 representative in 2015-2016.
“[Bennett and I] had lunch and he told me that he decided that he wasn’t going to run, but he suggested I should instead,” said Wilson. “The more I thought about it the more I wanted to do it. After the 2016 election, that signaled to everyone that we have to be more involved, and for me doing more meant running for this seat.”
In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in District 80 by 14 points, which is a good sign for Wilson in this year’s election.
“Elections are usually won or lost by one or two points, so when one candidate is winning by 14 points it is a landslide,” he said. “Even though the party lines are pretty even in this district, about 40% Republicans, 40% Democrats, and 20% independent swing voters, those Republicans are willing to vote for Democrats depending what is on the other side of the ballot.”
After a quick introduction to himself and to the election, Wilson opened up the floor to questions from the students, and soon went in depth into the platforms he supports and the ideas he has for the Georgia House. One of his main issues, as a former middle school teacher, is education funding.
“The current way funding works is, there is a certain formula to determine how much money Chamblee gets, versus how much money North Springs gets, versus how much money Griffin gets. It is based on how many students there are,” he said. “The state in actuality has never fully funded the money that goes to these schools. We want to overhaul that funding formula, because it is 30+ years old and Georgia has never adequately funded it.”
In addition to expanding healthcare access and passing common sense gun laws, Wilson also elaborated on further developing the transit system.
“Transit expansion is a key area where my opponent and I disagree,” he said. “She says that the best thing we can do to expand transit in District 80 is to add more MARTA buses, and I don’t think that that’s the whole solution. If you don’t ride a bus now, you aren’t going to start riding one because there are more of them. But if we can expand MARTA trains to go more places, then that can serve a whole lot more people than just a few buses.”
Another issue close to Wilson personally is LGBT adoption rights.
“As a gay man, for the past five years I have been lobbying at the Capitol against the ‘religious freedom bills’. I’ve been very proud of the progress we’ve been able to make, but this past year the discussion has turned to reforming Georgia’s adoption laws to make it all but impossible for LGBT couples in Georgia to adopt, and that hits me personally because I would want to start a family, and if these people get their way I wouldn’t be able to do that,” he said. “I’m about as Georgia as it gets. I grew up in Griffin, I went to UGA, and I plan to live and die in Georgia, so for someone to say, well they’re more Georgian than I am, so they get to decide whether I have a family or not, that’s not OK.”
Junior Logan Durisch, who attended the talk, found it to be a very insightful and informative meeting.
“Mr. Wilson was able to give the room an inside look at how things work in local and state politics. He was able to work in specific examples from his personal life when he was walking us through his views on the major issues, and it was refreshing to meet a politician so in touch with their constituents,” said Durisch.
For Wilson, being in touch is incredibly important, because local government is often a very influential factor in people’s lives, whether they know it or not.
“The politics at the local level has more direct effect on your lives than President Trump does,” he said. “Most of what Trump does has a very indirect effect on you sitting in this room right here, but if the city of Chamblee of DeKalb county or the state of Georgia passes an ordinance it’s going to have a very direct effect on your lives.”