By Nathan Ham
Ray Russell, who defeated Jonathan Jordan in November’s general election will be sworn in at a private ceremony in West Jefferson this Sunday, January 6 at 4:45 p.m.
“I have asked that both the Watauga County and Ashe County commission chairs do the administering of the oath of office,” Russell said. “I thought that would be a great way to make it a very non-partisan event that makes it clear I’m here to represent both counties.”
Ashe County chairman Todd McNeill and Watauga County chairman John Welsh will administer the oath of office.
In addition to this official swearing in ceremony, Russell will also take part in a ceremonial swearing in on the floor of the North Carolina House of Representatives on January 9.
Russell, the founder of Ray’s Weather Center, first announced his decision to run for the N.C. House District 93 seat in October of 2017.
As the race started to heat up in 2018, Russell hit the campaign trail in Watauga and Ashe counties, knocking on doors and meeting voters, some of which have faced tough times economically in an area of the state that tends to be forgotten about by lawmakers in Raleigh.
“It’s life changing to knock on doors and ask people what matters to them. We’ve done that, the voters responded and now we’re ready to go to Raleigh and really represent this district,” said Russell in a previous interview with the High Country Press.
Russell won the election with 52 percent of the vote to Jordan’s 48 percent. Russell received 18,522 votes to Jordan’s total of 17,068 votes. Jordan was able to carry the more conservative Ashe County, winning 7,089 votes to Russell’s tally of 4,489, however the more Democratic-leaning Watauga County was an even bigger win for Russell as he got 14,033 votes and Jordan received 9,979.
Russell also had a fairly sizable edge in campaign finance donations with a total of $293,883 being reported in the last financial document submitted to the North Carolina Board of Elections on November 7. The final campaign fundraising total for Jordan reported on October 29 was $223,430.
While he has not officially taken office yet, Russell has been busy learning the ins and outs of being a member of the N.C. House. Ray says he has made at least four trips to Raleigh already that included training sessions and hiring a legislative assistant. After the January 9 ceremonial swearing in, the legislative session will be recessed until January 30.
“I bet I won’t spend more than five days at home during that time,” Russell said, referring to the time between January 9 and January 30. “I am taking a little bit of a vacation. I haven’t had a vacation to do anything other than visit family since May of 2017 so I’m going to get a couple of days off.”
Russell said that he is part of a new class of 45 representatives, most of which are completely new to the process. The newly elected Democratic house members make up over a third of the Democratic caucus in the N.C. House.
“I’m in a group that’s going to be heard from. We’re going to be able to do something that very few groups of freshmen legislators have ever been able to do before,” Russell said. “We’ve met several times already just as a group. We’re a pretty cohesive, energetic bunch.”
Russell, 61, considers himself to be the “old guy” in the young, aggressive group of first-time representatives.
While he’s not sure what committees he will be a part of, Russell would like to be part of committees that deal with education, healthcare, agriculture, economic development and environmental issues. Russell says those issues are the ones that he campaigned on and wants to make the biggest impact on.
One of the things that Russell has already taken part in was a mock legislative session for representatives to get a feel for what an actual day in session is like.
“We all went in and spent most of the morning getting reviews of all the rules of the House. That is probably the single most impactful thing that has happened, actually walking into that room on the floor of the House and sitting in one of those seats. I’ve been in the gallery before but obviously never on the floor of the House. It’s a humbling, exciting and exhilarating feeling to walk in that room,” Russell said.
Until he is sworn in this Sunday, Russell does not have an official email address or mailing address yet, but that will be happening very soon for voters and people in the district to reach out to him with their thoughts and concerns. Russell said he has already answered several emails that people had sent to his campaign site.