Matthew Wilson (BSA — Agricultural Communication, ’06)

Georgia state representative advocates for agriculture

When Matthew Wilson (BSA — Agricultural Communication, ’06) first walked into the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta as a freshman state representative in January 2019, he was ready to tackle issues and collaborate with other state legislators thanks to his experiences at the University of Georgia and in Georgia 4-H.

Originally from Griffin, Georgia, Wilson is currently a state representative for District 80, which covers parts of Brookhaven, Chamblee and Sandy Springs in Fulton County.

“Ag Hill Council and 4-H was actually really great training for the legislature because you had people from many different groups all in the same organization who aren’t necessarily going through the same experiences,” said Wilson. “And that’s exactly what the legislature is like — from rural areas, from urban areas, from all different backgrounds. Some of us are better at that than others, and I think that I’m a little better prepared because of the experiences I had.”

As a student, Wilson was also involved in the Arch Society, Blue Key Honor Society and the Sphinx Society, for which induction is the university’s highest honor. He says his connections, especially from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, have helped him stand out.

“There are so many 4-H alumni under the gold dome,” he said. “Not just elected officials, but staff members who were 4-H’ers. Just being able to have those allies that know I’m there for the right reasons and want to do what is best has been helpful.”

Wilson’s education and experiences helped land him a seat on the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee. “I’m very grateful for my ag background,” said Wilson, one of two metro Atlanta representatives on the committee. “It’s fun being a city boy on the ag committee. We learn a lot, but we’re able to provide a different perspective. Ag bills still have an impact in the city, so part of our job is to determine what that impact will be. I’m having a blast.”

Being a lawyer by trade helps Wilson with his legislative duties and as a member of the House Judiciary committee, but his education and work experience are sometimes secondary to learning from other representatives, even across party lines.

“I’m most proud of the friendships that I formed with Republican members,” said Wilson, a state Democrat. “One of the things I really enjoyed pre-COVID is we don’t assign seats by party. The speaker assigns seats and they’re all mixed up. I sat next to Sharon Cooper, a Republican from Cobb County who’s been there for three decades, and I have learned so much just from sitting next to her and being able to ask what’s going on. Unfortunately, because of national and election politics, a lot of people think we spend 40 days arguing with each other. Actually, we spend about two days arguing and the other 38 working together on a lot of different things.”

When it comes to collaboration, Wilson says having dialogue with constituents is also critical. Lately he’s been handling a lot of COVID-19-related questions about topics like unemployment and driver’s license renewals. He encourages people to find out who their state legislators are and how to get in touch with them.

“They need to know who you are. You need to reach out when we’re not in session so that when a bill comes up, you already have that relationship, and they’ll answer the phone or respond to an email because they know who you are,” Wilson said.

He underscored how a continual dialogue with constituents is helpful in creating policy.

“We come from a lot of different backgrounds and we can’t be experts in every issue we’re going to vote on,” Wilson said. “It’s not just about what that relationship can do for you, but how you can be helpful to your legislator.”