Matthew McConaughey named Philanthropist of the Year, but what about the race for governor?

Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File

Alright, alright, alright…he’ll let us know “shortly”. Actor Matthew McConaughey is studying up on if he should or shouldn’t toss his hat into the ring and run for governor. In the meantime, he’s been named Philanthropist of the Year by the Hollywood Reporter.

McConaughey and his wife Camila founded and run their foundation, just keep livin Foundation. In January 2019, Texas high school teacher Rebecca Pfleger suddenly collapsed and died of a heart attack in her driveway. For eight years prior to that, the teacher at Sam Houston High School worked as a partner with McConaughey’s foundation which helps at-risk kids. “It was terrible,” recalls Shannon Rotenberg, jk livin’s executive director. “And Matthew was like, ‘I got to see the kids. I got to talk to the kids.’ A week later, he was on a plane to Dallas.”

“They just got a slap in the face, a reminder that life’s not permanent,” McConaughey says. So he gave the teens not mere sympathy but a framework to turn their grief from helpless loss into something more empowering.

“It’s not constructive to say something isn’t fair and shouldn’t have happened,” he says. “As hard as it is to lose somebody, it can really galvanize people and make us question what’s important in our lives. We can really concentrate on what we’re thankful to that teacher for. What was special about them? And can we double down on what that was [in order] to be a better son or a better daughter?”

The name of the foundation is inspired by the loss of his father in 1992.

“I thought my dad was invincible,” McConaughey says. “I miss him all the time. But I also maintained my relationship with him, spiritually. I say to the kids: If you want to talk to your teacher and they’re no longer here, do it anyway — say it out loud. Do it for as long as you want to. Keep the spirit alive of that person. That’s how you pay the ultimate respect. Show in your own life what they taught you. That’s how they’re always alive, that’s how you ‘just keep living.’ Make what they taught you immortal.”

McConaughey and his wife founded the foundation in 2008 and it has expanded to 40 Title 1 schools. Title 1 schools receive federal funding because at least 40% of their students come from low-income families. The schools are in 14 cities. The program offered by the foundation focuses on fitness, mental health, teamwork, and community service. It has a success rate that is to be envied by any program. Nearly 100% of the 3,000 participants per year graduate in schools where the typical dropout rate is as high as 50%. The students show sharp increases in grades, confidence, and exercise.

In Texas, McConaughey is known for his work raising money for victims of disasters. A somewhat recent example is a benefit concert he put together after the Big Freeze, the winter storm Uri, that left millions of Texans without electricity and power for days on end when the state power grid went down in February. The “We’re Texas” concert in March raised $7.7M for victims. He brought in performers like Kelly Clarkson, Post Malone, and Miranda Lambert for the virtual concert.

Anyway, besides being a grateful man and finding a passion for helping others, what about the idea he’s flirting with to run for governor? He’s still thinking about it.

It’s a whole new thing. I prepare for everything. I’m a big preparer. I am not until I am — OK? Is this something I’ve been thinking about for 20 years, and I know what I want to do, but I’m just holding on to my answer? No. It’s a new embassy of leadership that I have really been doing my diligence to study, to look into, to question what it is, what would it be for me. Not the question of, “Hey, do you think I could win?” No. Let’s talk about what Texas politics is. Talk about a policy statement.

I’m a storyteller. I’m a CEO. But being CEO of a state? Am I best equipped for the people in the state, and for my family and myself? There’s great sacrifice that comes with a decision. That’s what I’ve been doing, and there’s no tease to it. There’s me doing my diligence, and I will let you know shortly.

Here’s the thing – Governor Abbott is going to be re-elected. McConaughey lives in the Austin area and does a lot for Texans. He should just keep on keepin’ on with his good works. If he jumps in the race as an Independent, which he’s said that he would, not a Democrat or Republican, he could raise a lot of money, no doubt, but he’ll likely realize he better serves the state with his foundation and other non-profits he supports. Recognition as Philanthropist of the Year for his charitable work is good publicity either way. It would be interesting to see Hollywood donors having to choose between McConaughey and Beto, though, wouldn’t it?