Fiscally conservative and socially liberal, Matt Stillwell identifies himself as a moderate Democrat, and he’s running to represent the newly formed Texas House District 136 in Williamson County. The population explosion in the area created the district, which Stillwell firmly believes is not Republican red but purple — with a good chance of turning Democratic blue.
Stillwell moved to Austin from Albuquerque in 1990 at the age of 15. After graduating from Anderson High, he received a degree from Texas Tech and launched his own graphic design company. Now an independent insurance agent, Stillwell is married with three young sons and a passion for public education. Last year he ran for the non-partisan Round Rock I.S.D. school board and was criticized by his opponent for participating in the ’08 Democratic Primary. That experience whetted his appetite for a battle against Republican extremism.
QUESTION: Tell us about District 136 and the basics of your race.
STILLWELL: This is a moderate district that went for McCain in ’08 by 51 percent. My opponent, (Cedar Park City Council Member) Tony Dale, is a right-wing extremist candidate. Before I filed to run for this office, I needed to be convinced that I could win. To do that, I needed a far right-wing candidate on the Republican side, which I’ve got, and a Libertarian (Matthew Whittington) in the race. I’ve got both of those things, so it’s a good situation for me. I’ve got a better-than-reasonable chance to win.
QUESTION: What are your priorities if you’re elected to the Texas House?
STILLWELL: Education is No. 1. That’s what got me off the couch and into the race in the first place. I want to be a voice for what I think is right: increase the funding, roll back the high-stakes standardized testing and work on increasing local control. School boards should be able to make decisions without heavy-handed control by the Legislature.
I’m also worried about jobs and transportation, and water is an issue that I don’t think enough people are aware of. That needs to be a priority — and finding a way to pay for it.
QUESTION: What kind of campaign are you running now and what is your dream campaign?
STILLWELL: I’m running the kind of campaign that I think I need to win. We won’t have enough money, and we know it. Fundraising has been slow, as it has been for everyone, but we have volunteers, so we’re already block-walking and having house parties. That’s what will win for us — a strong field campaign. After we’ve raised some money, we’ll have direct mailings later in the campaign. Right now we’re trying to knock on 1,000 doors a week. We set goals that are higher than we can meet, but we’re out there.
QUESTION: You’ve done lots of research on the possibilities in your “purple” district. Elaborate for us.
STILLWELL: I’ve got to outperform Obama by 5 points to win. To do that, I need conservatives and moderates to not vote straight party Republican ticket. Some of them may vote for Romney for President, but me for the State House. The Republican Party has moved so far to the right and become so extreme that a lot of people who consider themselves Republicans or Independents can’t support them. I’m counting on that.
I’ve got to get 30,000 people to vote for me, and probably 25,000 of them aren’t that involved right now. I need to get them to look at that Texas Republican Party platform, because it’s a scary doctrine.
It’s a delicate dance here in Williamson County, because I don’t want to offend my base. Once people look at my issues, I think Democrats will be OK with them, and Republicans will think they sounds pretty reasonable. I’m appealing to middle ground. I’m not taking Democrats for granted, but I do think they’ll vote for me.
QUESTION: Are you getting lots of help from Democrats outside your district?
STILLWELL: District 52 and District 20 don’t have Democratic candidates, so the residents in those districts who want to support a Democrat are supporting me. We have volunteers from all over Williamson County and outside my district as well. It’s too bad we don’t have candidates running in those two districts, but it’s beneficial to me this year. The Williamson County Democratic Party is a good group, and they show up at our parades and events and send volunteers. I have actively courted the TCDP and hope they adopt me, because they have an enthusiastic base and are really organized. We all need to work together. Helping our neighbors shows the strong structure of our Party, and every Democrat we get elected is one more Democrat representing Texas in the House.