Katie Zumwalt is a striking woman. Thin, blonde, and with steely blue eyes, it isn’t difficult to imagine her on a movie set.
But she also possesses a quality that brings to mind a childhood friend, or maybe the girl next door.
Attractive, yet wholesome- that is how a director might describe her were she being cast in a movie, and that was my first impression of her upon meeting Katie and her husband, James Zumwalt, this summer. I was feeling anxious about the elections, and went in search of a candidate I could support, and that lead me to the James Zumwalt campaign.
James is running for US Congress in Florida’s first district- a race that is overwhelmed by too many candidates, some of whom spend more time trying to talk over each other than trying to discuss real issues, much to his frustration. James is a guy who just wants to take his jacket off and get to work while everyone else argues, and no matter where he goes in life, that’s what you’re going to find him doing.
He likes to call himself a “constitutional conservative” and in my dealings with him as a candidate, he’s right. He is an honest candidate, one who would call up the recent widow of a veteran in private and have a very real discussion with her about what he personally can do to help her in her time of grief and anger.
I’ve seen him engage in meaningful conversations with voters whom have outright said they aren’t voting for him, and then asked him to consider supporting their causes.
To date, I’ve yet to see him NOT keep his word and give support regardless of a vote.
I’ve watched him walk away from a camera to engage a group of high school students- who can’t vote for him anyway- that were patiently waiting on the sidelines to grab a selfie with him. In that particular instance, he spoke with the group for nearly ten minutes, until every student had run out of questions for him. Only then did he leave the group, and when he did, it was to exchange a playful joke with the young daughter of one his opponents.
She asked him what kind of conditioner he uses. James is really lacking in the hair-atop-his-head department. His response was to laugh and ask her for a recommendation.
Even his opponents’ kids are a bit smitten with James, and when one watches the way he interacts with everyone around him, it’s easy to see why.
But it is James’s wife who captures my attention, and for very good reason. She’s a captivating person, and I jumped at the opportunity to sit down and do an interview over lunch with her yesterday in Navarre, Florida. After our server takes our drink orders, I begin recording, and the ensuing discussion moves between the interview and just laughing and conversing.
Katie is easy to laugh with, and she switches between serious topics and lighthearted ones effortlessly. At one point we go from discussing how the two met to how tall Chris Hemsworth is (he’s very tall, we determine).
In another spot, we go from discussing how campaigns choose their campaign colors to my daughter’s boyfriend and how he does karate. Conversation with Katie flows easily from one topic to the next, and we’re both a bit surprised when we discover we’ve been sitting on the deck of the East River Smokehouse for nearly two hours.
While James might be described as personable, outgoing, smart, genuine, and even humorous at times (he does seem to make a lot of jokes about his giant eyebrows), the woman beside him is equally impressive. A graduate of Tulane University, Katie has travelled the world, speaks three languages (two fluently), and has taught English in China.
She works full time as the sales director for a start-up tech company, and has worked her way up to that. She has supported James through multiple deployments, his time at the Pentagon and later working for the current congressman in the 1st district.
While they were not “officially” a couple during James’s time in the Navy as an EOD tech, they were close friends, and the story goes that throughout his deployments, she was the one he consistently reached out to when he was able to call home.
Their story- the “how we started” story that we all love to hear- is what movies are made of. Katie retells the story with a sly grin and eyes that practically sparkle.
While at Tulane, Katie mentioned in passing one day that she was going to be taking a certain class in the upcoming semester, and James replied that he had the book she would need for the class at home. He promptly stole the book from his roommate’s bookshelf, and raced to Katie’s house on his motorcycle, where he found her in a tux preparing to leave for her job as a bartender.
Katie laughs a little here, while she remembers James just kind of standing there with the book in his hand, both of them wondering what to do next. What James did next reminds me of probably every smitten boy in the whole world.
He handed her the book and left.
They remained that way- shy friends who were probably secretly crazy about each other but too scared to admit it- for 14 years.
It wasn’t until the couple found themselves single at the same time that Katie finally grabbed the bull by the horns and simply said “Let’s go out on a date!”
They were married in October, 2014.