Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Ray Russell Is Top Possibility for Flipping an NC House Seat

The North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation has a short list of NC House districts that "lean Republican." These eight districts (93, 9, 104, 105, 2, 7, 16, and 59) draw the attention of political operatives, because in a wave election, these might be the most flippable, red to blue.

District 93 is at the top of the list. District 93 contains Watauga and Ashe counties and is currently represented by Republican incumbent Jonathan Jordan, who was first elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 on the strength of some very nasty campaigning against Democrat Cullie Tarleton. In the General Assembly, Jordan is what's known as furniture. He sits until called upon to vote, and he always votes with the Republican caucus. He supposedly lives in Ashe County.

Watauga County regularly votes for the Democratic challenger, but it's Ashe County that usually squeezes out Jordan's wins. That dynamic may change this year, with Democrat Bucky Absher on the ballot in Ashe running for sheriff. The scandal of lately resigned Republican Sheriff Terry Buchanan is expected to propel Absher into office and may splash up on the rest of the Republican slate.

Ray Russell
Democrat Ray Russell announced that he would run for the 93rd House seat almost a year ago, and he's got solid campaign infrastructure: Facebook, Twitter, and a website. He's raising money and sharpening a message and presents an energetic contrast to the lethargic Jordan: Russell, among other qualities, is a marathon runner. In 2016 he ran the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, 469 miles, to raise money for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation.

Russell is locally famous as an amateur weatherman who turned his fascination with the weather into a profitable business, RaysWeather.com. His local forecasts now cover most of the Blue Ridge front from Avery County up into Virginia, and most people in the High Country will always hedge when planning an event -- "What does Ray say?"

So he's a scientist, and among the motivations for deciding to run in 2018 was the growing anti-science habits of the Republican Party under Donald J. Trump. It's unacceptable to Ray Russell that the party of his heritage and his family -- he used to be a registered Republican -- should collude to reject the demonstrable truth revealed by scientific investigation. Unacceptable. And he felt he had to do something.

He's also motivated by a deep Christian faith. If he sometimes sounds like a preacher, it's because he was one, pastoring churches in Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and North Carolina. He got his bachelor's degree in Bible at Freed-Hardeman University, a private college associated with the Churches of Christ in Henderson, Tennessee. He subsequently got a Ph.D. in computer science at Georgia Tech and has been teaching computer science at AppState since the early 1990s.

In keeping with that religious grounding, Russell defines his values in terms familiar to those who know the Sermon on the Mount: “In modern history, the level of trying to scapegoat groups, trying to disenfranchise people, trying to slice and dice the electorate and the nature of the conversation has become so ugly, so rude and so disjoint from real issues,” Russell said. “In many cases, people have been so ugly in their campaigns that it puts them in a position where they cannot effectively lead as elected officials.”

“The heart of North Carolina is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ ” Russell said. “In the coming campaign and eventually in the North Carolina House of Representatives, I’ll live out that principle by demonstrating respect, listening to voices and leading with innovation and skill.”

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