Conservative With A Cause

Matt Towery used his bully pulpit to undo effects of legislation he helped to pass

Matt Towery, 48, defies pigeon-holing. He’s an outspoken semi-pundit who doesn’t socialize much with anyone, let alone political types. He’s a free-thinking conservative whose business partner, Pierre Howard, trounced him in the 1990 lieutenant governor’s race. He benefited from the rise of the Republican Party in Georgia to get into the state legislature but grew up idolizing Democratic icon John F. Kennedy.

Towery crafted the Child Protection Act of 1995, legislation used to sentence Genarlow Wilson to 10 years in prison in 2005 for aggravated child molestation, yet the former legislator used his bully pulpit – columns on InsiderAdvantage, his website featuring a daily compilation of political news, information and polls, and his weekly Creator’s Syndicate newspaper column – to press for Wilson’s release, which occurred in November 2007.

In a nutshell, Wilson spent two years in prison because Georgia law allowed him, videotaped at age 17 during consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old female, to be prosecuted on aggravated child molestation charges.

“The thought of that kid in prison weighed on me,” Towery says. “I absolutely felt responsible. I knew I had to step up and take the bullet for that legislation and try to make it right. A lot of bad people went away because of that legislation but what happened [to Wilson] was never its intent. [State Sen.] Emmanuel Jones put legislation forth to try to do something about it, but it was important for me to lobby the legislature to address the way the law was being interpreted. I alienated friends I loved.”

The campaign for Wilson’s release led Towery’s longtime friend, former ambassador and Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, to nominate Towery and Emmanuel Jones for the Profiles in Courage Award, named after President Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book. Talk of the nomination brings the normally effervescent Towery down a couple notches. “First off, I’m not going to get the award,” he says, firmly. “But this is a case where being nominated, especially by Andy, is like getting the award. My immediate reaction was shock. I got into politics because of Kennedy. He was my hero. His impact on me was phenomenal.”

A native Atlantan, Towery was the only child in a well-to-do family. The family-owned printing business, Color Graphics, would someday be his, but Towery’s father had two directives: Go to law school and start and run a successful business of your own. After finishing his undergraduate degree at Cambridge University in England, Towery attended Stetson University Law School in Florida. He passed the Georgia bar in 1987 and founded a law firm, Venema, Towery, Thompson & Delashmit.

The 1990s were a blur of activity for Towery. He was defeated in his run for lieutenant governor, but went on to get elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1992, representing Cobb County’s 30th District. He sold his law practice, was “of counsel” at Long, Aldridge & Norman, and in 1993, took charge at Color Graphics, where he revolutionized the company’s business by implementing digital presses.

Four years later, with doubled profits, the family sold the company. Towery was out of the legislature and took a brief sabbatical to write a book, Powerchicks: How Women Will Dominate America, before he and former political rival Pierre Howard created Special Corporate Strategies, advising corporations and associations how to work with elected officials.

It was the first of several Towery/Howard ventures, including the Internet News Agency, LLC, parent company of their InsiderAdvantage websites, with individual sites dedicated to Georgia, Florida and the Southeast. “InsiderAdvantage is completely nonpartisan,” he says. “In fact that was the charge from our investors, to offer a nonpartisan view of the political scene.”

The company also has a polling services arm that services corporate clients; the data are used by many major news organizations. Towery also publishes James, a niche print magazine for political junkies.

Asked how he describes himself, Towery replies, “I’d say I’m a businessman. My focus is being the public face of our company, and building our brand.” That said, Towery is adamant, “I want this to be my last company. The day it’s sold, I will never talk politics again.”

Whether that vow is kept or not, Genarlow Wilson is probably glad Towery chose to talk politics in 2007.

Categories: Influential Georgians