As a self-described introvert, Shelly Echols never imagined a career in politics.
If anything, she saw herself playing a supporting role for her husband, but that’s not quite how things turned out.
“I taught government and U.S. history, so I've always loved (politics), but I'm an introvert and so having to be on in public all the time is just not something that I ever thought of,” she said. “I really always assumed my husband would be into politics, and I'd be the first lady supporting him, so it's funny to see that we got that one wrong.”
Echols, R-Alto, just wrapped up a four-year term on the Hall County Board of Commissioners, where she represented District 3 in East Hall. She is now transitioning into the second phase of her political career under the Golden Dome.
She is succeeding Butch Miller for the state senate’s District 49 seat after winning her election in November. In her campaign announcement, she pledged to “champion pro-life policies, protect our Second Amendment rights, fight for less government, and never cave to the radical left and their cancel culture.”
As a state senator, she wants to reign in state spending and return money to taxpayers.
“Right now, there's a lot of money being collected in the state,” she said. “Tax revenue is up significantly and so when there's more money, more hands are out asking for the handouts. And I just think that we have to be mindful in not making the budget larger because we have more money right now. Because if we have a depression or another economic downturn like we did in 2010, 11, 12, then the money's not going to be there to fund all this that we're funding right now, and it hurts to make those cuts. So I think that that money should be returned to taxpayers instead of the state spending it for taxpayers.”
At a forum with local legislators in early December, she said she is also in favor of T-SPLOST, a 1% special purpose local option sales tax used to fund transportation projects.
“The only way (most) local projects can be accomplished is through a TSPLOST,” she said. “We’ve got the Inland Port coming, and there are going to be some transportation implications because of that. … We’ve got to get moving and not play catch-up with that. I’d like to be a little more offensive, instead of defensive, on that.”
She acknowledged she has big shoes to fill in replacing Miller, who vacated the seat after running unsuccessfully for Lt. Governor.
“In meeting people now in the Senate and in the legislature, they’ll say, ‘Which seat are you taking?’ And I'll say, ‘Well, I'm replacing Butch Miller,’ and they'll say, ‘Oh, my gosh, what a personality.’ And he's so well known for that. So there's a lot of pressure there to remain true to who I am but also know that that's what people loved about Butch, and I certainly want to honor him and all the people who have held the seat before him.”
Her conservatism has roots in her Southern Baptist upbringing, she said.
“When I was little going to church, we were there every time the doors were open, and so I think my upbringing has made me very socially conservative,” she said. “I’ve always believed that less government is always better.”
She also located her conservatism in more particular moment as a college student at North Georgia College and State University (now UNG) when she watched the twin towers collapse on 9/11 in a room full of cadets.
“I think that probably solidified my conservative values,” she said.
The first president she ever voted for was George W. Bush prior to his first term.
“I was so excited to vote for W,” she said. “I sent money to get a t-shirt from the campaign, and I wore that t-shirt till I wore it out. I was so proud of that. I've always had a fascination with the Bush family, and I don't really know why, but he just seemed like a very plain-spoken person. But he seemed like he also got it, too. You know, he was smart, but he didn't come across that he was overly intelligent, and he reminded me of listening to my dad talk.”
Echols grew up off Harmony Church Road in Gainesville and has lived in Hall County her whole life.
Her father was an entrepreneur who ran his own bus company before selling it in 2018. She worked in human resources for her father’s company before starting her own company, Daniel’s Educational Tours, which planned and facilitated field trips for school students.
It wasn’t long after that she decided to run for county commission.
“There were some things going on in the county commission that aggravated me as a business owner and as a member of the community,” she said.
One of those things was county employee pay. During her tenure, she said, county employees have received an 18% pay increase across the board. Even years after the 2008-09 recession, she explained, “pay was way low and we were losing a lot of employees, especially in Fire and Rescue.”
Echols may be an introvert, but at times she hasn’t been shy about being the lone voice of dissent on the Board of Commissioners. Her opposition to certain developments earned her a reputation as “anti-growth,” she said, though she thinks that claim was overblown.
She was the only board member to vote against a $10,000 commissioner pay raise in October 2021.
“A big deal (was) made out of my opposition to the pay increase for the county commissioners,” she said. “People questioned, ‘Did I do that for politics? She’s grandstanding.’ … But I really was opposed to the pay raise.”
She was also the only commissioner to speak out publicly against the hiring process for the new Hall County Administrator Zach Propes, whose tenure officially began earlier this month.
Echols lives in Alto with her husband, Drew, CEO of Jaemor Farms, and their two children, Chloe, 17, and Cohen, 13.