Carolina Democracy

A Petition for Change!

May 20, 2024 JD Wooten Season 3 Episode 19
A Petition for Change!
Carolina Democracy
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Carolina Democracy
A Petition for Change!
May 20, 2024 Season 3 Episode 19
JD Wooten

Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, we're joined by Shelane Etchison, an Army combat veteran and independent candidate for North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. We also kick off with the latest on the Voter ID trial and private school vouchers.

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Show Notes Transcript

Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, we're joined by Shelane Etchison, an Army combat veteran and independent candidate for North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. We also kick off with the latest on the Voter ID trial and private school vouchers.

Learn More About Shelane:

Contact Us:

Follow Us:

Support the Show.

Shelane Etchison: One more thing about the petition. We would have never been successful if the electorate didn't want it. So there was a message being sent with every single signature with the voters here in this district that clearly they are unhappy with the political environment or lack of results that they're getting from Congress. Otherwise, they wouldn't have signed. 

[music transition]

JD Wooten: Welcome back to Carolina Democracy. I’m JD Wooten, and this week we’re joined by Shelane Etchison who is running to represent North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. She has a fascinating background and to call her resume impressive would be an understatement. She is the embodiment of breaking barriers, especially for women in the United States military. We get into her background in the interview, so I’ll let you hear all about it in a moment, but I do want to emphasize that this campaign is also another first for her and a first for North Carolina. She’s the first person to ever qualify and run in the general election for Congress in North Carolina as an independent. There are occasional examples of local candidates doing so, and sometimes to great success like one of our local Guilford County Board of Education members Deborah Napper a few years ago. But the higher up the ballot one goes, the more challenging it becomes. 

There are a lot of reasons for this, but one simple reason is that qualifying for ballot access as an independent means a candidate must obtain signatures from 1.5% of the registered voters in a district. So if you’ve got a handful of precincts in local election and a few months of dedicated work, it’s not an impossible hurdle, although it’s still quite the undertaking. However, if you’re going to run for Congress in a district that covers some or all of seven counties like Shelane, that means you need 7,460 valid signatures. And since the board of elections might throw out signatures for any number of reasons – not legible, addresses don’t match, voter turned out to not live in the district even though they could have sworn they lived – it’s best to collect well over that minimum number. Well, as you’ll hear, Shelane and her team managed to collect almost 13,000 signatures. Not shabby at all.

Over the years, we’ve found ourselves interviewing mostly Democratic candidates. To the extend we’ve had unaffiliated voters on the show, they were journalists or activist who still had an important message or were playing an important role in our democracy. That was never by design, but our only real litmus test criteria if you will for getting an invitation to join the show is that you must believe in and be willing to work towards protecting democracy. Even just five years ago, I would have thought it nuts to believe that such a low bar would basically preclude all candidates from an entire political party. But alas here we are. That said, if there’s a Republican out there who wants to come on the show and who supports voting rights and reforms to end partisan gerrymandering, and will acknowledge the threat to democracy posed by Donald Trump and the MAGA movement, give me a shout. Most of them seem to have gone quiet or changed registration at this point.

Anyways, Shelane is an independent candidate, but as you’ll hear, I really believe her values and what she wants to fight for align with most of this audience, even if she doesn’t carry a party label. Where it counts, especially things like ending gerrymandering and taking other steps to protect democracy and speaking out in support of women’s reproductive health and personal freedoms in medical decisions, she’s definitely on the right side of history. But I’ll let you hear more from her, I don’t to risk mischaracterizing anything she’s said or her positions.

But before we get to that interview, a quick update on the Voter ID case here in North Carolina. The trial concluded this past week, but because this is a constitutional challenge to a statute, there was no jury. That means that both sides have completed their presentation of the evidence to the presiding judge, and now the judge will have to make determinations of fact and then draw legal conclusions from those facts. Basically, she’s got to weigh the credibility of each witness and the other evidence to try to figure out, as best she can, who’s telling the truth and how much credit to give the testimony. After she sorts through that process, which is the part we call findings of fact, she has to apply the law to those facts. So if she finds evidence of racial discrimination, then she’ll have to apply the proper legal standards to assess whether that is sufficient to strike down the law entirely. If she doesn’t find any evidence of racial discrimination, that probably ends the question altogether. The judge set at 21-day deadline for the parties to submit proposed rulings for her to consider, so it will definitely be at least several weeks, maybe even a few months before we hear more.

There were a few other things that we could dive into, but nothing final so we’ll save those discussions for another week. For example, it looks like the budget surplus might not be as high as projected. Speaker Moore has indicated that supplemental funding for the Opportunity Scholarships to ensure the richest North Carolinians can get some voucher money might not be as big as the state senate previously approved, but that’s just talk right now. They haven’t acted on it so I’ll save you my rant for another day when they’ve actually vote to send more public money to private and religious schools instead of funding our public schools. After last week, I feel confident you know my feelings on that front anyways and I’m going to by annoyed at any number greater than 0 anyways.

Alright, I nearly dove into a rant on vouchers without even meaning to, so before I get sidetracked again, let’s get to our interview with Shelane Etchison. Hope you enjoy!

[music transition]

JD Wooten: All right, with us today is Shelane Etchison an Army Combat veteran and independent candidate for North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. Welcome, Shelane. 

Shelane Etchison: Thank you for having me, J. D. I really appreciate it. 

JD Wooten: Absolutely. So, first question for you, right out the gate. What's your earliest memory of politics or getting involved in politics?

Shelane Etchison: My earliest memory was the election of Bill Clinton. I was actually living in Canada at the time, half my family's Canadian but yeah, earliest memory of him and don't ask me who the Prime Minister of Canada was then, don't remember that, but I sure do remember Bill Clinton. 

JD Wooten: Yeah, that was definitely a formidable time for a lot of us and vivid memories there. So let's start with some of your other background. In addition to the Canadian experience, I understand you grew up at least some in central Florida and then spent time on horse farms and then somewhere in there, after 9/11, you commissioned in the army. I'm sure there's a lot in between all of that. Want to share with listeners a little more about where you're from and your story growing up? 

Shelane Etchison: Certainly. I moved around a little bit, so I was actually born in Springfield, Illinois. My dad's side of the family hails from Southern Illinois. I think a lot of cornfields. And then my mother's side of the family is Canadian. So we moved to British Columbia. And then had a little bit of a wild hair, my parents. They wanted to go be expats for a bit. So we spent some time in Mexico. That wasn't really working out too well. So the closest piece of U. S. soil at the time was Florida. We ended up going to Florida. And that's where I spent kind of most of my growing up, like, in high school and whatnot. And, yeah, there was a horse trader down the street. I really liked horses. We were kind of in a more suburban kind of rural part of central Florida. So spent lots of time there, breaking different horses and taking people out on trail rides and stuff. 

JD Wooten: Well, that sounds really cool. So, what led you to the Army?

Shelane Etchison: Well, no one in my family has ever served in the military. So it wasn't just this like, direct pathway, if you will. But 9/11 happened when I was in high school, and it just was such a formidable event. And I always was really interested in news and current affairs and kind of what was going on. And there was just this nagging sense in me that I needed to be part of our country's response to this event. And so really, I took a leap of faith. I joined ROTC in college. I was going to central Florida in Orlando. And I was also in a sorority at the time. I was also getting a minor in women's studies, okay, like there's nothing in that triple Venn diagram that really overlaps except for me. But it was me following my intuition and I wanted to serve. And so that's what ultimately led me to the decision of joining ROTC and going into the army in 2008. 

JD Wooten: Wow. Yeah. So let's add a fourth circle to that Venn diagram and we'll add a couple more circles here as we talk, I'm sure. You started off in the military police and ended up, I believe, with a deployment to Iraq as part of the military police. So how did you end up in that specialty to start off with?

Shelane Etchison: Well, mind you, at the time when I joined the Army, there was a ban on women in combat arms. So just by virtue of being a woman, you were automatically disqualified from going into jobs that related to kind of direct combat roles. Which for me, I didn't agree with. I was joining the military and I wanted to do it to my full extent and abilities with our nation's response to our attacks. And the military police was kind of the best of the options that were available to me. We were still very much deploying. We were on the ground doing combat support type missions, so that's ultimately what led me into that particular branch.

But my first deployment with military police, I was 23 years old, deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, leading a platoon of Soldiers doing base defense operations and doing training with the Iraqi police. So right out the gate, you know, I was getting really good pivotal leadership experience as a young 23 year old leading a platoon in Iraq.

JD Wooten: Yeah, I think it's tough to remember just how recently things have shifted. And in a way that allows women to have a much more integral role in our military and that, you know few people remember it was only the class of 1980 that were the first women at our service academies. And then it was a few years after that, that women were allowed to really start doing things like being pilots and then later fighter pilots and then later have combat roles. And I mean, that's literally the women like yourself and others who came only slightly before you. Those are the women that are still wearing the uniform today. 

Shelane Etchison: That's right. That's right. Yeah. Most people really have no idea that it is so recent.

JD Wooten: Yeah. I remember thinking when I first joined the Air Force, like, wow, there aren't that many women at the top of the pyramid in terms of the promotions. And then it occurred to me, they just haven't had time to get there because they haven't been in opportunities where they even could ascend to those ranks yet. 

Shelane Etchison: That's right. And that's sort of the institutional bias of it all, or discrimination really, like one, you're barred from even going into these jobs, but, oh, by the way, it's these particular jobs that are the ones that are advancing into the highest ranks of our military. And so there really is just a dearth of representation. I mean, I did not have any sort of meaningful female mentorship or role models. If I'm being honest, my only kind of role model was G. I. Jane. Remember that movie? There just weren't really that many examples out there for women like me to look to. And so I'm really proud to actually, you know, kind of carry that torch for my sort of generation of women in the Global War on Terrorism and be an example for the women coming after me and are really doing quite great things. 

JD Wooten: Well, I certainly appreciate that. And I appreciate you filling that void and helping that next generation, because I think my time in service absolutely confirmed that the better our service could represent everyone that the service was supposed to be serving, the better that service could be and that necessarily meant it needed to look like the population it's serving. And it just didn't. And it still doesn't, but we're getting better. 

So back to your story, because now we get to add yet another one of these crazy circles of the Venn diagrams that might not overlap. Your story goes from interesting to truly unique with this next one.. You were selected for a Special Operations pilot program, which was deploying women on combat missions in Afghanistan with Army Rangers and the SEALs. As I understand it, the goal was to gather critical intelligence on high value Taliban and Al Qaeda targets. Can you tell us a little more about that opportunity? I'm sure there are a few things you can't say, but anything you could tell us about that opportunity and what y'all were doing and lessons that you carry with you today. 

Shelane Etchison: Yeah, that's right, JD. I can't emphasize how unique and also a little controversial this was. Mind you, there was that ban on women in combat. But now you have the U S Army Special Operations Command putting out a directorate saying, hey, we want to recruit and especially select just a few women across the Army to go on these night raids, these missions, getting intelligence on high value al Qaeda and Taliban targets, and you're going to be doing it.

Oh, by the way, not just with the infantry, but with Special Operators. And I'm talking Navy SEALs I'm talking Army Rangers. I'm talking Special Forces. And so for me, as someone who, again, I joined the service, I joined to contribute in the most impactful, biggest way that I could. It was a no brainer that I'm going to do everything I can to make myself competitive and be one of the women selected for this. This was why I joined. This is an opportunity that was on paper, not afforded to me. But here we are. So I'm really proud to say that I was selected as one of the first 20 women to deploy specifically with the Army Rangers and Navy SEALs on this pilot program. 

JD Wooten: And just in case that wasn't enough, you then attended and passed selection for the highly elite Special Mission Unit, and you were deployed to combat yet again, partnering with Kurdish women forces in Syria to fight against ISIS. How did that come to be? 

Shelane Etchison: Well, I'll get to that in a second. I actually think there's a little bit more to the story about my time in Afghanistan that's pretty pertinent. If you can imagine, I was not welcomed with open arms. When I showed up to the base in Helmand, Afghanistan, arguably one of the most dangerous places in the world to this platoon of hardened warfighters from the 75th Ranger Regiment. And the mission was twofold. One, not only survive Afghanistan for the obvious reasons. At that point in the war, there were a lot of people getting hurt and killed, especially in that region. And not only to do the job at hand, but to do it in a way that showcases, I know all eyes were on us and to do it in a way where we are proving that women ought to be given the fair shot or fair opportunity to if you meet the qualifications to do any jobs that the military has, and if we failed at this, it was going to be so easy for people to say, see, we told you, so they don't belong here. You don't belong here. You're a 2nd class service member. This place isn't for you. And so certainly that was a lot of pressure. And I'm really proud of how me and my female cohorts performed and we ended up and what I call is a deployment of strategic empathy.

So, even though I wasn't welcomed with open arms. I really emphasized, hey, I want to get to know these men. I can understand why they're skeptical. They're a tight knit group. They've been deploying together. They have lots of training. I am new and I want to understand their concerns, their fears, and how do we work together and bridge these divides to be the most cohesive team that we possibly can.

And in doing that, we really we really had quite a successful deployment. And by the end of it, you know, I walked away with some of these, these guys are still great friends today. And they ended up saying, hey, Shelane, it's kind of messed up that the Army doesn't let you guys go in to Rangers. They don't even let you try. That's kind of messed up. 

And so, you know, that's a very valuable lesson that in this new endeavor into politics, I really want to bring in as a leader that, hey, on the surface, it may seem that we might not agree or come from very different places, culturally and whatnot, but there's a lot that we have in common and we have to listen to each other. We have to understand where they're coming from. And only from that standpoint, can we start to bridge these divisions. 

So now moving on to my, my final endeavor in the military, it still was within Special Operations. And again, had to go through very, pretty arduous selection process with that.

And this particular unit is more can't share a ton about it, but yeah, one of my deployments out of that was to Syria, and I was one of the first women there embedding with the Kurdish women fighters fighting against ISIS. And half of our partner forces there the Syrian Kurds were women, in fact. They are very staunchly about women's liberation and they knew that it was an all hands on deck effort to fight against ISIS, get them out of their territory because these women's freedom was on the line. They had no choice. 

And so I say that my time in Iraq and Afghanistan, I really questioned the validity of what we were doing there. Was it really effective? Were we really countering this insurgencies? Or were we perhaps making it worse, okay? That's a conversation for another day. I did not feel that way about Syria. I didn't. It's a perfect example of how a very small footprint of special operators on the ground and U. S. military and intervention partnering with the right partner force and what we can effectively do with battling back against ISIS and their spread and their tyranny. 

And there really is no way to go about that experience when I was there, literally witnessing people having newly liberated from ISIS after living under their tyranny for years and watching that elation. Watching what it looks like when people now have their freedom yet again, and not have just such deep, profound appreciation for living in this country. For our founding ideals for the freedoms that we have the rights that we have and that it must be protected. So, yeah, I ended up finishing my time out there in Syria. Very grateful for it. Certainly one of the best experiences, most unique experiences that I've had. 

JD Wooten: I could, I'm sure, spend multiple episodes just asking you more about your experiences in Syria, Afghanistan, your experiences and training those cultural issues, however, being cognizant of your time and the fact that you are running a campaign for Congress that we want to talk about, let me transition then real quick to after your military career, over a decade, you decided to drop by Harvard and pick up a couple degrees and MBA and public policy in particular, what led you pursuing both a business degree and a policy degree at the same time?

Shelane Etchison: Well, so when we moved to Florida, my parents started a small business. They were coffee roasters. They were selling coffee in an open air dirt floor flea market. And I was able to watch that business grow through their determination and kind of the risk of entrepreneurship and all that. And I've always been a believer in really the positive power of business and small businesses and what they mean to the lifeblood of communities and people's livelihood and employment. But then I've always been very interested, like I said before, in kind of current affairs and governance and policy. And so it really just was a natural coupling that if I have the option I wanted to get both of those degrees.

And I want to preface it with this. Okay. I'm a product of a very mediocre Florida public school education. Okay. No one in my family has ever been to an Ivy League school before. I could not have even told you where Harvard was on a map. So when it came time to leave the military, I had learned there's zero reasons to put limitations on ourselves and I'm not afraid to fail. I'm not afraid to be told no. So there was no reason why I said, hey, if I'm going to go, I'm going to go to school, I'm going to apply to some of the most competitive schools I can. And so it ended up working out for me. And yeah, so I got my two degrees from Harvard there, even though I'm not, I don't consider myself a Harvard gal in a lot of ways.

JD Wooten: I tell a lot of people that are interested in law school today, if somebody is asking me where should I apply, whatever I say, well, if you only get acceptance letters and you didn't apply to the top schools, then you're selling yourself short. And if you get accepted to the top schools, even better. And if you don't, whatever, you know, move on. So I commend that approach. And I think everybody should take a page out of that. So where in all of this, did you come to call North Carolina home? 

Shelane Etchison: Well, I've been in the state since 2011. That's when I first came here and was stationed at Fort Bragg, now called Fort Liberty. And so, because I was in Special Operations, as I've talked about I, unlike most soldiers, I didn't have to keep moving around every, you know, two or three years. So, I was able to stay here, and I have called this my home since 2011. And I just feel it in my heart. I felt it from that very first year. I've built just such a wonderful community of friends here, colleagues and this is the place for me. So it was a no brainer. I, when I left the military, went to school, I knew I was going to be coming back in here for good. And there's a lot of veterans that have that exact same story. The military brings them here to the state for one reason or another, and they end up staying. So I'm not an anomaly by any stretch of the imagination. And especially in my district that I'm running in, there's lots of people with this same story.

JD Wooten: Oh, absolutely. The number of military veterans, retirees that find themselves in and around bases, maybe their story's like yours where the military took you somewhere. And then you say, this is where I want to call home. It's a phenomenal opportunity that I think that the military gives to see new places, but to also find yourself calling home to new places and that's pretty cool that, especially with the special operators, I never knew that despite the amount of time that you have to spend away from home doing the job, you didn't have to also come back and constantly uproot and relocate where you were calling your primary residence at the same time. 

Shelane Etchison: That's right. Yeah, that's right. Now you've got a special operations service members that have been here stationed at Fort Liberty for 20 years. Because, you know, this is a very unique military base home of army special operations. And so it's kind of the only place you can, you can go in a lot of ways.

JD Wooten: So you're now running for Congress as an independent candidate. We'll get to the unique nature of being an independent candidate in just a moment, but more broadly, what motivated you to run for public office, especially Congress, and why now? 

Shelane Etchison: Well, I'll say this. I didn't have any mapped out, you know, 10 year plan, 15 year plan, and in 2024, I'm going to run for this and this way, and then I'm going to climb the ladder here. That's not really how I've operated my life. I really do make decisions based off again, kind of that intuition, I think, leading with my values and making decisions based off that. And we hear this a lot, but I believe it's really true that there is indeed a crisis of leadership right now in our Congress. I fear that just like in 2020, we are not going to get through this presidential election cycle without more violence. And to me, that should be blaring alarm bells for people that why is this happening to our country?

And I feel a deep need that I'm a strong convicted leader. My profession in the military as an officer was to lead, okay. And part of that is you work to unite people you work to put country first and the service of those you lead first and any sort of political interests, partisanship, special interests that's not supposed to be part of the equation there. And unfortunately, we're seeing that more and more. So simply put, I'm running because I don't feel like there's any option for me not to, we do not have the luxury of time. And I don't want to see this country that I really love divulge any further than we frankly have been and continue to be.

JD Wooten: So you decided to run as an independent candidate. For those who don't know running for office as a member of a political party basically means first running in that party's primary, if anyone else even runs, and a lot of times our primaries go uncontested. So it's who shows up and pays the fee and puts their name on the ballot. Now, then there is the general election and that's where you're headed next. But as an independent, there's no primary. Instead, you have to engage in what sounds like a pretty arduous mission of collecting signatures to petition to be on the general election ballot. How many signatures does that require for Congress and how did that effort go? 

Shelane Etchison: Well, I'll start with this. I argue that neither of the other opponents in this race had primaries. So kind of I'm the only one that sort of had to run a primary if you will with this petition process. So I'm telling people I've been the only one who's been hitting the pavement hard in this district since January and have continued to do so. So, in terms of the actual technicalities of the petition, it's one and a half percent of the registered voters in the district is the number of valid signatures that you need. In the 9th, that happens to be 7, 460. That number is branded on my brain for the rest of my life. And so that's the number of minimum valid signatures that we needed. 

However, there's no guarantee that every signature is going to be valid for 1 reason or another. Maybe someone puts their nickname down instead of their real name. Maybe someone puts down their old address. That they were registered to vote at not their new address. Maybe someone thinks they're in the district, but because of the maps always changing, they no longer are. So the mission at hand was simply get as many signatures as we can. And we had about 7 weeks to do it. Not a lot of time. But, you know, thank God, a lot of my friends here and volunteers are, are from the military and we can put together a pretty mean operation when we need to. And so between volunteer power, a little bit of paid canvasser power, we were able to get just shy of 12, 800 signatures in total, and we submitted those to the state for validation. After they did all their counting and then an audit, they finally got back and said, you made it, congratulations. And oh, by the way, you're the first person ever to do this in our state. And so I asked them, I said, can you verify with your records? I don't want to be putting out misinformation. And they said, we've verified this. This has never happened before. So I'm really quite proud of that, that we were able to pull this off the way we did.

JD Wooten: Wow. So checking yet another first along this journey, that's quite the impressive accomplishment. And given that incredible effort you just talked about in collecting signatures, it does sort of beg the question in my mind, why not run on a political party ticket? And let me say, I'm not asking that with any agenda, but having run with the backing of a party and knowing how tough that was still, you've definitely once again set out on a tough mission. Just curious your thinking in taking this approach. 

Shelane Etchison: Well, one more thing about the petition. You know, we would have never been successful with that if the electorate didn't want it, okay. So there was a message being sent with every single signature with the voters here in this district that clearly they are unhappy with the political environment or lack of results that they're getting from Congress. Otherwise, they wouldn't have signed. And that was something that when we got started with the petition. Hey, if the people weren't feeling it, if they were reluctant, then maybe that's a sign that this isn't the right path to go down.

But JD, it wasn't. In fact, we got more and more green lights from people in the district that they were like, heck, yeah, we will sign this. We are unhappy with what we have right now. So that kind of leads into, well, all right, maybe some of my thinking on running outside of the normal political party apparatus is perhaps exactly what our country needs and what the voters in this district are looking for.

So it's really a two part answer. Maybe three part. I'll start with this. One, I'm not afraid to do hard things. So I know there's nothing easy about this running with a party without a party, okay. But you know, there's an ideological reason and a strategic reason. I guess I'll start with the strategic. So, we all know that North Carolina is just one of the most heavily gerrymandered states in the country right now. It's extremely anti democratic and something that I certainly want to advocate reforms for, which perhaps we could talk about that later. But in this district, it was already a Republican leaning district. There has not been a Democrat in this seat for quite some time. And with the new maps, it just made it even more so. So it leans Republicans in like, plus double digits. There's really no viable pathway for a Democrat victory here in this seat. There just really isn't. 

And then ideologically speaking, you know, numbers tell a story. 35 percent of this district are registered unaffiliated. Unaffiliated voters are actually the plurality now at the state level and nationally. So what does that say? People are unhappy. People are not feeling like they have a place. They don't have proper representation with one of the two parties. And I'm not saying that's right, that's just the unfortunate reality of where we are in our political environment. And that's not what a representative democracy is supposed to be. So when you have so many more people saying that they are now politically independent, well, shouldn't there be an independent on their ballot as well? Shouldn't we start having more independent candidates get into the mix? I certainly think so. And so, we need to have people who are politically engaged and feel hopeful for our future. Feel inspired by their candidate options, their leaders. We just haven't been seeing that. And so I really do believe the best way to go about that is doing it as an independent or unaffiliated candidate. 

And also, by the way, it allows me to talk to everyone. The environment right now is just so toxic that say, if I were running as a Democrat. And maybe you have experiences with this, JD, as a former, you know, candidate yourself that people are going to make their preconceived determinations about you based off your political labeling. And I want to break through that. And so by not having a label, it kind of forces everyone to like, hear me out. Where do I stand on issues? What kind of leader am I? What kind of representative do I want to be for the people? And I think that's really good because it engages in dialogue rather than just, you're not on my team, so I will immediately dismiss you.

JD Wooten: I think that's critical and I really applaud that. Yes, I absolutely had experiences that track with what you're talking about. It was difficult on occasion it would happen. But it was not the norm. And I think that the occasion that maybe it did break through, it was something that I shared with a particular voter that transcended the party label. Like somebody recognizing that I was a veteran and they were a veteran and that they would at least engage in that conversation veteran to veteran. But, I mean, at the end of the day, you know, as well as anyone else that serve the percent of population that that applies to as you know, just one example is pretty low. And so that's not nearly enough to overcome the bigger problem that you're talking about of just everybody retreating to their corners and being in that tribal mindset. And I am going to take the bait. You mentioned gerrymandering and you said, maybe we can talk about it. And I do want to ask you, it doesn't have to be part of your answer if it is okay, great, but it doesn't have to be part of your answer, but what are your top three issues you're focusing on as this campaign heats up?

Shelane Etchison: Well, that is one of the issues. I guess packaged in the idea that, what are our problems? We all talk about Congress is dysfunctional with the gridlock. We have too much polarization and division, the incentives for our Politicians are not properly aligned right now to serve simply the people.

And so what legislation can be done, what advocacy can be done to start fixing those root cause issues? How do we get back to the representative democracy that we are supposed to be? And for people to feel like they actually have a voice? And so I believe that absolutely at the federal level, there's already legislation kind of put forth or drafted to have independent redistricting commissions for congressional districts. We should because how the maps are drawn in New York or anywhere else, they affect us because everyone in Congress is passing federal level legislation. And so I absolutely am going to be pushing that. I do believe we need legislation that's going to take unfettered amounts of corporate money out of our elections. It's completely distorting the system, the Citizens United ruling. We need to address that. We need to make sure that voting rights are protected on a federal level. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act. I mean, it was not not voted on in I believe 2021.

But we need to start addressing these systemic issues that are eroding that are eroding our democracy. And so I'm going to be a big proponent of that. We will be better in the long run for it when we start addressing it. And by the way, as an independent, you know, I don't have these perverse incentives about appeasing the parties, and truly just aligning with what is going to best serve our country and the people of the 9th.

And again, in that same vein, we talk about the divisions, polarizations in our country. What are some of the root causes of that? And these are quite complex things. I think the rise of the Internet, smartphones, isolationism, the media, our political leaders, feeding into it a bunch of stuff goes on and on and on.

But, you know, this just as well as I do. J. D. when we joined the military, what happened? It took us out of our bubble from where we're from, and it put us in a group with people from all backgrounds, all over the country, okay. And we had to work together. We had to respect each other. We had to complete missions together.

And I think that that can be that is a very wonderful thing that we get as service members. I really am going to be a big proponent for incentivize national service. I do believe there's a lot of interesting ways that we can leverage that for people leaving high school. You know, paid 1 year, 2 year terms of national service around the country, right? They're going to learn leadership skills, character skills. They're going to be working with people from different backgrounds. That's so valuable and bridging these divisions and taking us out of our own echo chambers or our own kind of cultures that we've lived in. And, you know, we can perhaps tie that to that gives tuition into schooling. There's lots of different structures that we could do that, but I think that's really important. I've benefited it from the military and I think a lot of youth can benefit from that as well. And especially when you look at youth, mental health is just in decline. Social isolation is in decline. How are we helping the young people and helping bridge divides and set them up for success and then helping our country as a whole?

And then finally, this is something that's important to me and also one of the reasons why I feel compelled to get into politics now is we've got to protect women's reproductive rights and access to that. That needs to get codified on the federal level. We've seen what happens when it's not. There are states that are just taking this into draconian laws that I spent so much of my time overseas where women did not have the right to make decisions for themselves. They were second class citizens. I fought very hard against that. And and I refuse to let this carry on in our country. That's a very personal, sensitive topic, and the government does not have a place in that. So those are kind of three things that are very important to me.

And of course, there's a plethora of plethora of issues that we can go on. But I think fixing the root of the problems for our democracy, helping heal divisions, and then protecting women's freedoms. 

JD Wooten: Music to my ears in terms of the things that you're fighting for and I wish you the best on all of that, because I hope you'll succeed on fighting all those fronts. So is there anything else you'd like the audience to know that we haven't covered? We've covered a lot, but I'm sure there's more. 

Shelane Etchison: Well, first off, I just, I really appreciate you giving me a platform because as we discussed, not only is this different running as an unaffiliated candidate for Congress. It literally has not happened before in our state. I'm the first one. And so I'm really inviting people. I'm inviting people to have an open mind to this and to just look at the facts of what they are right now, that so many people in our country are not feeling represented in our democracy, in our current system. And there's nothing in our constitution that says, hey, we need to have it set up exactly this way.

This is our country. So if you are unhappy with the results that or lack of results that you are getting from Congress right now, you have the power to vote differently. Be brave, use it. Say enough is enough. I mean, I feel like we have done my part to get on the ballot. We fought tooth and nail to get on this ballot. That's another thing to talk about, about how our system really prevents and stifles any sort of real competition and competition is a good thing. We promote competition in our free markets. We need to have that in our democracy to. And so this is a movement. It really is. And it's the idea that we are taking back a little bit of power and we're saying, no, no, I'm not going to choose between the lesser of the two evils anymore.

No, just because you're incumbent doesn't entitle you to our votes and another two year term on top of another two year term until you die, you know. And so it's really standing up and saying that this is our country, okay. We deserve better. And so I'm inviting people to have an open mind about my candidacy and that just because something is the way it is doesn't mean we have to continue that way.

And I also tell people think about where our country would be right now if pioneers in our country thought this is too hard, or this has never been done before, it's not worth doing, okay. And people who were not willing to stand up and take the risk because something was too hard or too different.

Where would we be right now? I don't know, we'd probably still be a colony of the UK, you know, who knows. So I really reject the notion that justice has something is different or out of the norm, it's not worth doing. I think this is a very exciting candidacy. I'm proud to be in this position, and I know there's a lot of people who are ready, who are ready for something different, and it is North Carolina's Ninth that are going to be the ones doing it for the very first time, having an option to vote for an unaffiliated candidate for Congress. And that's a pretty exciting position to be in.

JD Wooten: So I can't think of a better place to wrap and ask this, the most important question of the day, where can people go to learn more about you and your campaign? 

Shelane Etchison: Certainly. Well, my website, so it's my last name: So by all means go there, you can sign up to get our newsletter updates that we do and keeping up with the campaign. As we move along, we're gonna be putting more events on there that people can see and come to. And I'm on all the social media platforms as well. That is usually under my first name, ShelaneForCongress. So I'm the only Shelane Etchison in our country, all right, I'm pretty Googleable.

So any one of those platforms I invite people to go to, I invite you to, hey, if you have questions, hit me up, me or someone on my team, we will get to you. We want to invite you. This is a big tent. This is a movement. This is saying that we deserve better. We deserve better principled leaders in our halls of Congress who are going to put our country, our democracy, and the people first enough is enough.

JD Wooten: Well Shelane, it's been an absolute pleasure having you today. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us. 

Shelane Etchison: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. And I appreciate what you're doing promoting the tenants of our democracy, the necessary reforms that we need to. And I'd also like to say this. I'm like, hey, if we're able to write this ship and get some of these reforms in place where we can get more perhaps centrist candidates in that can be more moderate and representative of the people, I won't need to run as an independent, but that hasn't happened. So here we are, and we're doing it. But thank you so much for having me on, helping share my story, my platform, and for everything that you do. So I really appreciate it. 


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JD Wooten: Thanks again to everyone for listening today. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, send me an email at And as always, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and share this episode with a friend. Together, we can achieve a better North Carolina for everyone!