By Nathan Ham
Surrounded by friends, family members, volunteers and other local politicians, Ray Russell took his official oath of office on Sunday afternoon at the Ashe County Arts Center in West Jefferson.
Rep. Russell was sworn in by John Welch, the chairman of the Watauga County Commissioners as well as Todd McNeill, the chairman of the Ashe County Commissioners around 4:45 p.m.
Dr. Dennis Grady, a recently-retired political science professor at Appalachian State University, served as Russell’s campaign chairman and felt like this was one of the best campaigns he had ever been a part of.
“This campaign was a fascinating campaign. I’m a political scientist and politics is what I do, I’ve seen lots of campaigns and I’ve never seen a campaign quite like this. Ray put two teams together early on that stayed together,” said Grady. “One of the most amazing things is you rarely ever see the people who start a campaign actually finish a campaign except for the manager and the candidate, everybody else gets burned out, they don’t want to be involved anymore. Our last campaign event before the election, we combined the two campaigns (Ashe and Watauga) and it was amazing, the people who were at the first meeting were at the last meeting. That really speaks volumes to the leadership that Ray was able to demonstrate.”
The first meeting in Ashe County at Smokey Mountain BBQ had 80 people show up. Grady said they expected that maybe they would be able to get 30 people to come out and support Ray Russell in that first meeting.
“I’ve worked for lots of candidates, I’ve never worked for a candidate like Ray Russell. He was doing three jobs at the same time, teaching a full load at the university, running Ray’s Weather and then campaigning everyday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week,” Grady said.
Campaign manager Lainey Edmisten, who played such an important role organizing events and volunteers, shared her thoughts on the campaign that organized two years ago.
“We could not have done it without everybody in this room, whether you knocked on doors, whether you made phone calls or donated money, we appreciate you so much,” said Edmisten.
She said that from the first day of the campaign, Russell said that he was going to win this race.
“I believed him, you all did too, and now I believe he’s going to go to Raleigh and do what he said he’s going to do, and I think when he stands for reelection in two years, you will be able to measure progress. That’s so important to me, that’s so important to our communities,” said Edmisten.
After Russell took his oath of office alongside his wife, Rhonda, he took a moment to speak to his supporters and volunteers that donated so much of their time and energy to help win this election.
“What we said we wanted to do in the campaign will be what we want to do when we get into office. Education, healthcare, economic development in rural North Carolina and preserving our environment, those were the things we campaigned on,” Russell said. “I want to thank you all, it is an honor to have been elected, it’s an honor to represent you in Raleigh and I’m going to do my best to make it count.”
Russell also introduced his new legislative assistant, Anna Meadows. She will be helping respond and find answers to questions from constituents and send out news releases on behalf of Rep. Russell.
The North Carolina legislature will convene at the end of January where Russell and the rest of the elected representatives will get to work.
Photos by Nathan Ham