Q&A with Ray Russell
(NC House District 93)
Ray Russell is running to represent the 78,000 residents of District 93 (Ashe and Watauga County) in the NC House. He is a professor of Computer Science at Appalachian State University and the founder of RaysWeather.com - a hobby that became a small business in 2000. It is now the most widely read media outlet of any type in the region where locals share a common daily experience of humor, wit, photos, and of course, accurate forecasts and weather information. The business now employees 7 meteorologists and has offices in Boone.
RaysWeather.com was named Business of the Year in 2016 by the Boone Chamber of Commerce. Dr. Russell has a PhD from Georgia Tech and has worked in web programming, databases, meteorology, human interface design. For several years, he had research contracts with NASA for a several years in commercial aircraft cockpit design. Before earning his PhD in computer science, Dr. Russell served as a minister for churches in Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and North Carolina. In 2016, he raised funds for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation by becoming the second person ever to run the entire length of the Parkway (469 miles in 23 days). Dr. Russell has served on numerous charitable boards including 3 years as Campaign Director the local United Way. Originally from Manchester, TN, he has lived in the Boone area for more than 25 years with his wife Rhonda, an early childhood teacher in Avery and Watauga Counties. Rhonda has served on numerous boards and committees related to child development in the High Country. Rhonda is now a Senior Lecturer in the Family and Child Studies Department at Appalachian State University.
Q. What’s your highest priority for your district?
My highest priority is to improve public education at all levels: early childhood through universities.
Q. For people originally from your district, what changes will they see in the lives of their families and friends after you’re elected?
Public education has suffered at all levels in North Carolina since 2010. It is the core issue for breaking generational poverty and economic development. Here are the changes we hope to produce for families in the 93rd District:
Better availability of high quality, early childhood education
Respect and support for classroom teachers at all levels
Increased opportunities for trade skills at community colleges that address economic opportunities for the next decade
Students should be able to attend college without incurring enormous debt
But other issues are also important:
Better health care in rural areas by improving the financial health of regional hospitals
Focus on economic development in rural communities
Restore decency to political conversation
Q. Why should people from outside the state care about what happens in North Carolina?
First, we must work to reconnect with rural voters. Democrats cannot sustain national success while ignoring rural America. Bridging this gap requires a true conversation where we put aside preconceptions, but not our values.
Second, we must learn from 2010, when The Tea Party injected candidates into every level of government. Many of the candidates who were successful at local levels have since risen to broader influence at the state and national level. Democrats can do the same in 2018 and reap the benefits over the next decade.
Third, it's obvious now that the control of state legislatures across the country is important to all of us. Gerrymandering in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin has negative national effects. We'll have to beat them with their maps now to restore order by 2020 when the new census results in new Congressional districts. North Carolina will be particularly important because the state will likely to gain a U. S. House seat after the next census. The path to control of the U. S. House will go through North Carolina.
Fourth, about 80% of elections are won by the candidate who raises the most money. To overcome the impact of large donors such as the Koch brothers, Democrats must create a broader base of support and be willing to target help where it is most needed and can be most effective.