Matt McCall says he was always interested in current events. He grew up reading The Wall Street Journal and watching the evening news.
“I think it’s just in people’s nature,” he told the American-Statesman. “It was a matter of being interested in the world around me.”
Decades later, that interest would turn to civic participation — the occasional campaign contribution and later asking others to bet on him in two bids for Congress. Now, McCall, 54, is hoping the third run will be the charm.
His Republican primary opponent in 2o14 and 2016, the long-serving U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio, is retiring, and after surviving a GOP primary in March with 18 contenders, he faces former congressional aide Chip Roy in a May 22 runoff for the nomination. Early voting is May 14-18. The winner will face either Mary Wilson or Joseph Kopser, the Democrats, in the general election.
The 21st Congressional District encompasses portions of Austin and San Antonio and spans west into the Hill Country.
McCall, a divorced father of two, said if he’s elected his priorities would include “sealing the border,” reducing government spending and repealing the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. already has enough paths to citizenship, including enlisting in the military, he said. And the federal government has too much debt, which he said politicians in Congress have helped balloon.
“We have to get the government under control,” he said. “I want to cut spending very significantly. The people want it.”
He also said he would limit his tenure to three terms.
McCall was born the youngest of six children into a Christian, conservative family in Corpus Christi. The McCalls moved to Boerne, northwest of San Antonio, when Matt was 12 years old.
His Christian upbringing played a role in his conservative ideology, he said.
“One of the basic things of Christianity is individual responsibility,” McCall said.
Craig Leeder, a friend from school in Boerne, remembered McCall as “very passionate, very Christian.”
“He was more so than everybody else. He would quote scripture out of the Bible,” Leeder recalled. “For years and years, he’s always been really strong with his beliefs, and I don’t think he’s ever wavered.”
Leeder said McCall asked him whether he should run for Congress.
“He called me 15 years ago and said ‘What do you think?’ ” Leeder said. “It was Lamar Smith. He’d been there a long time.”
McCall would not run immediately after that conversation, but he said he was inspired to challenge Smith after concluding that what he saw as big government run amok was threatening the American dream. He remembers traveling abroad and seeing vast disparities between rich people and poor people and thinking that sort of gulf could happen in America, with its government spending and regulations.
“The country is in crisis,” he said.
He said an outsider, someone with business experience, is in a better position to address the nation’s problems than a career politician or someone who has spent years working for politicians, such as Roy.
“I’ve been extraordinarily consistent,” McCall said. “I believe that it’s meant to be a citizens’ legislature, not a professional legislature. I think it’s meant to be a government of the people, for the people and by the people, and that one should go and serve and go home, and (Smith) had been there for 28 years. And it was time for the next generation to get into the fight, so I ran.”
‘The guy that gets things done’
In 2014, McCall and another Republican competed with Smith for the party’s nomination, but Smith won 60 percent of the vote and was re-elected. McCall won 34 percent of votes in the primary, something he and supporters found promising. In the 2016 primary, McCall won 29 percent of Republican support. In that match, three candidates challenged Smith, and the presidential primary also spiked turnout.
“It was no fun not to win,” McCall said. “I’m not used to that.”
McCall is used to being the person who solves problems.
“I’m the guy that gets things done when everybody else quits,” he said.
McCall owned several small businesses before a friend introduced him to the medical sales field in the late 1990s. He worked as a specialist in hernia repair techniques and later started his own medical sales business, McCall International Medical, which supplies surgical products to U.S. military hospitals overseas.
About 15 years ago, McCall became friends with Dr. John Friedland, with whom he would later work in a professional setting, while Friedland was an orthopedic surgeon at a military hospital in Germany, treating injured soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Friedland said if he needed something at the hospital, he would tell officials, and McCall’s company would deliver it.
Friedland recalled McCall being the only American supplier to show up at the hospital and personally oversee the delivery.
“Matt is a very charismatic individual. Fun to be around. Incredibly helpful,” said Friedland, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. “The kind of guy to give you the shirt off his back if it would be what got you through the day.”
‘He walks very quickly’
McCall relies on Andrew Lewis, his campaign manager for all three of his election campaigns. McCall became Lewis’ mentor more than 20 years ago, through a Christian youth group. In between campaigns, Lewis has been a sales representative for McCall’s company in Guam.
“He mentored me. He taught me about the Lord, being a Christian, being a man and what that means and how to live your life,” Lewis said. “He walks very quickly because someone told him one time if you know where you’re going, you should walk with purpose.”
Lewis said McCall has been criticized for not being involved in the Republican Party, such as by being a precinct chairman, but “he’s been involved in people’s lives; that’s been my experience and I know the experience of a lot of other people.”
McCall said some of his best qualities are loving people and being persistent. Some of his personality traits were born of his oldest brother’s death from leukemia shortly after the family moved to Boerne.
“Persistence pays. It pays in relationships, especially. Maybe part of that is my parents. They went through everything that other people get divorced over, and they stuck it out, and they clung to the Lord and pursued the Lord together,” he said. “They buried their oldest child; they went through bankruptcy. I’ve just always been very tenacious, and I’m a very passionate person. You ask my kids, they’ll say Dad’s passionate about everything, he’s passionate about his socks.”
McCall has endorsements from some tea party activists, a San Antonio law enforcement group and San Antonio businessman Red McCombs, among others. But Roy has endorsements from top Texas Republican officeholders — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has campaigned with him — and had out-raised McCall by a ratio of more than 2-1 as of the end of March, the latest campaign finance reporting deadline.
Still, McCall is hoping persistence pays off May 22 and Nov. 6.
“I love people,” he said. “I love my country. I’m very passionate about those things.”
ABOUT THE CANDIDATE
Matt McCall, 54, owns and operates a company that supplies surgical products to U.S. military hospitals overseas. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Westmont College, a Christian liberal arts college in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Priorities: limited government, balanced budgets, anti-abortion legislation, Second Amendment, border security.