John (JD) Zumwalt doesn't come across as a politician — and he'd be the first person to admit that.
In fact, even though he's running for the District 52 seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives, politics — at least politics as usual — is exactly what he's running against.
"I'm just fed up with the establishment," he told The Times, in an interview on Monday, January 11. "And I thought it was just DC, until I started doing my research, and I realized that's it's not just DC. It's in Raleigh as well. And is documentable — it's shockingly in your face, if you go looking for it. And I can't believe that we keep electing the same people."
Zumwalt came to Moore County, like many residents, courtesy of Ft. Bragg.
He was born and raised in East Texas, near Corpus Christi. A Vietnam vet, he worked as a policeman, firefighter, and ambulance driver. He became a tugboat pilot and then a fire boat pilot before returning to the military after a 16-year hiatus.
He served with the Army Rangers for three years, completed Green Beret training, and served with the Fifth Special Forces Group out of Ft. Campbell, KY for seven years. He then moved to US Army Special Operations Command at Ft. Bragg.
He retired in 2004 while serving in Iraq and began to work with the Army's IED Field Team and eventually with the US Army Asymmetric Warfare Group.
The District 52 seat is currently occupied by Republican Jamie Boles, who is seeking re-election to his fifth two-year term.
Zumwalt is careful to note the he's is not running against "Mr. Jamie Boles."
"He's a good man, and people like him," he said. "I'm running against Representative Jamie Boles, because he's not a good legislator for the people."
Zumwalt begins his case against Rep. Boles with an expansion of the sales tax approved by the General Assembly as part of the FY2016 state budget. The state broadened the categories of business subject to the sales tax to include some services, like auto and appliance repair. The expansion takes effect in March.
"Small business owners cannot afford that," Zumwalt said. "Some of them have mark-ups as low as eight percent, and they tell me they just can't afford this new tax."
"Second, it was rammed down our throats quietly," he said. "Most folks didn't even know it was happening."
"But the most important thing — and this drives me crazy — is that we cannot spend one dime of that money in Moore County. It all goes to other counties that the legislature has deemed to be more in need than we are."
The General Assembly in fact selected 79 of the state's 100 counties and divided the anticipated additional revenue of $84.8 million among them. Moore County was not one of the 79, though every county that touches Moore was included in the distribution.
"I call it giving foreign aid to other parts of North Carolina," Zumwalt said
"My opponent voted for that," he said. "What I hear people saying is that it was going to pass anyway, so it didn't matter what he did."
"Here's my analogy: If I hear someone's going to come to my house and hurt my family, and maybe four or five show up, I'm not going to stand by and do nothing. I'm going to fight tooth and nail to the very end for them."
"And that's what I want to see my legislator do for me: fight tooth and nail. Whether he can win or not, I want to hear his voice being spoken, and I want him to vote no on these things."
The tier system
The next exhibit in Zumwalt's case against Rep. Boles is North Carolina's tier system, which assigns counties to one of three groups based on their relative prosperity — and then funnels economic development money and other benefits to the poorer, Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties.
"We are a Tier 3 county," Zumwalt said, "which means that the tax money we pay in does not come back to us on a equal basis with the other counties. Seventy or more other counties get more than we do."
"Someone might say: 'He's one man. What can he do?' He can stand up and try to get something done," Zumwalt said. "He could mention it once in a while. We should hear his voice speaking up: 'Let's do something about the tier system.' I've heard nothing."
"One man equals one vote," Zumwalt said, "and I want to see that vote go for me — for this district."
Favoring the funeral home business
"Out of twenty-five bills that Representative Boles introduced last year, six of them were directly in support of the funeral home industry," Zumwalt said, laying out the third exhibit in his case against Rep. Boles. Boles owns several funeral homes in Moore and surrounding counties.
"One of those bills — just in case someone might try to get you to believe that those were for the benefit of us, too — one of those bills says this: If you are in a funeral procession, and you're in a wreck, you're not allowed to sue the funeral director. That's a bill that he sponsored."
"If you can find time to introduce six bills for the funeral home industry," Zumwalt said, "and you can't find time to introduce even one single bill for education — not one bill to help teachers, to help teacher assistants — I don't see how that makes any sense."
A self-funded campaign
Zumwalt is self-funding his campaign; he's taking no political contributions, whether from lobbyists, political action committees, or individuals. He told The Times he wants to preserve his independence, as a candidate and a legislator.
"I have had a lot of folks — and even my friends — criticize me because I am self-funding my campaign," he said, "but I want to be able to say whatever I want to say, without people saying 'John, you're overdoing it this time.' And I want to be able to vote any way I want to vote."
"I don't want anyone to think they can come to me and get any special favors or any type of special audience because of the money they have given me. I will owe nothing to anyone, and I will continue to be that way."
"If I am elected, I'll be a representative like they have never seen in this state in their lives. I will not be hushed, I will not back down, and I will not avoid issues. I will let everyone know exactly what I am going to do."
"You will see me at School Board meetings. You'll see me at County board meetings. If I'm elected, the black community will see me, too."
"If I'm elected, every email will be answered, every single call will be returned. There will be no one wondering what I am doing or where I am."
Zumwalt's wife, who died last year, was a teacher and school administrator. He has a special interest in education.
"One of the very first questions I got was this; 'Are you one of these guys who just wants to raise taxes and throw money at everything?' and the answer is: No, no, no," Zumwalt told The Times.
"If we spend our money the way that we should be spending it, we have plenty of money to build our schools, pay our teachers, and give our teacher assistants a job they can count on from year-to-year."
"If we used that lottery the way we should," he explained, "if we got rid of the tier system, if we got back that sales tax money they have taken away from us, if the state would give us the funding they promised to our County, then we would have enough money to pay for everything we are supposed to pay for."
"No, I do not want to raise taxes," he reiterated, but he does support the quarter cent increase the county sales tax that Moore County voters are being asked to approve during the March 15 primary.
"The reason I am for that one-quarter of a penny tax is because it's not being forced down our throat, it's left up to the voters, and it's dedicated to be spent on the building of schools," he said.
"It's a crying shame that teacher assistants had to ago to work this Fall and not know if they had a job tomorrow," Zumwalt said, referring to the fact that the General Assembly took until mid-September to approve a state budget that determines how many assistants would be allocated to Moore County.
"How long had they known that they had to come up with a budget in Raleigh?" Zumwalt asked. "And they couldn't come up with one?"
Not about party
"For my friends who are Democrats," Zumwalt said, "I have been a lifelong Republican, but I am fed up with seeing my Republican legislators, at the state and the federal level, lead us down the same old entrenched path that we've been on all these years."
"It's no longer about Democrat and Republican. It's about doing the right things and kicking these people out who have been doing the same old things for years."
"I wish my Democrat friends would take a look at the issues," he said, "change their party affiliation to unaffiliated, and then they can vote for me or my opponent. Right now they can't vote for either of us."
North Carolina allows unaffiliated voters to vote in the primary of any party.
Asked about his agenda beyond the issues surrounding educational funding, Zumwalt said: "I want to spend a lot of time talking to people, finding out what they are concerned about. I represent them."
"I don't go there with any hidden agendas," he added. "I go there to be a servant to the people of this district. And I can't know what they want, what they need, what they are concerned about, unless I talk to them. Once I find that out, I will represent their concerns."