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Taking a Look at the North Carolina Senate and House of Representative Races in Watauga County

By Nathan Ham

Three of the four candidates for the North Carolina Senate District 45 seat and the North Carolina House of Representatives District 93 appeared at the Meet the Candidates Forum held on Tuesday night, co-sponsored by the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce and the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce.

Republican incumbent Rep. Jonathan Jordan  and Democratic challenger Ray Russell were there as well as Democratic Senate challenger Wes Luther. Republican incumbent Sen. Deanna Ballard was held up at an event elsewhere and could not make it to the forum.

Who They Are

Jonathan C. Jordan (R)

  • Attorney with a law office based in Jefferson.
  • Has been the District 93 Representative since 2011.
  • Graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Math.
  • Received undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University.
  • Received law degree and MPA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Received MBA from Vanderbilt University.
  • Salary: $13,951 annually

Ray Russell (D)

  • Founder of RaysWeather.com.
  • Received Ph.D in Computer Science from Georgia Tech.
  • Computer science professor at Appalachian State University since 1991. Previously taught at Virginia Commonwealth University and Freed-Hardeman University.
  • Ran the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway (469 miles) in 24 days in 2016.
  • Served three years as the campaign chair for the High Country United Way.
  • Other non-profit service includes Middle Fork Greenway Task Force, Blue Ridge Parkway Association Board and the ZAP Fitness Board.
  • Married for 39 years to wife, Rhonda. They have two daughters: Leah and Laura.

Deanna Ballard (R)

  • North Carolina native.
  • Has been the District 45 Senator since 2016.
  • Currently the Director of the Office of the President/CEO for Samaritan’s Purse.
  • Former volunteer for George W. Bush’s Presidential Advance Team.
  • Former Director of Advance for Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
  • Former Deputy Director of Advance for Department of Education Secretary Rod Paige.
  • Received a business degree from Belmont University.
  • Serves on the worship team at her church, runs half marathons and hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway in her spare time.
  • Salary: $13,951 annually.

Wes Luther (D)

  • Served seven years in the United States Marine Corps.
  • Grew up in High Point but currently lives in Vilas.
  • Currently attending Appalachian State University majoring in Sustainable Technology.

On the Issues

Jonathan Jordan

Education: “My two children attend the local public schools so education is a very important issue to me regardless of what you hear every single election. We’ve put more into education this year than ever before in North Carolina, $700 million this year alone.”

Photo voter ID: “It’s a common sense issue and most citizens of North Carolina agree there needs to be photo ID. Voter fraud is too easy to commit in North Carolina. If only one citizen’s vote is stolen, I think that’s too many.”

Small businesses: “Small businesses have come to me and told me that red tape is the thing that kills them the most. We constantly have this on our agenda, we’re passing laws, we’re making changes, we’re cutting back on regulations.”

Ray Russell

Healthcare: “Caring for families is a North Carolina value. We value the right to affordable healthcare and prescription medications that don’t bankrupt families! In Ashe and Watauga Counties, we are blessed with excellent local hospitals thanks to the hard work and skill of so many people. We are also fortunate to have caring, dedicated individuals who devote their careers to helping those struggling to pay for healthcare (like AppHealthCare, High Country Community Health, the Community Care Clinic, the free pharmacy at the Hunger and Health Coalition, Ashe Health Alliance, and so many more). But we also have a shortage of medical professionals and rural hospitals are struggling financially. As your House Representative, I pledge to stand up to anyone who wants to make healthcare more expensive, and will work tirelessly to protect coverage and access to rural health care for Ashe and Watauga Counties.”

Education: “For NC to once again be a state that leads in education, we need a change in Raleigh. We need legislators who understand the value of education for all and the realities our students and teachers are facing in currently underfunded schools. As an educator myself, and as a husband of an educator, I do understand the issues we face in NC schools. In the North Carolina House, I will always vote for our children’s education by supporting their teachers and properly funding their schools.”

Environment: “We need new representation in Raleigh if we are to retake our position as a national leader in renewable energy, energy conservation, water and air quality monitoring, and common sense environmental protections. Protecting the environment will create new jobs in alternative energy and keep our state a healthy and beautiful place to live. What we have in the High Country and across North Carolina is too precious to lose. I am committed to this end. It is our moral obligation to pass down a clean, healthy environment to our children and grandchildren.”

Deanna Ballard

Economy: A changing marketplace and government regulations and mandates can be challenges for any small business. Ballard says she will fight to remove burdensome regulations so that businesses can expand and hire more employees.

Education: Ballard is the daughter of a public school teacher and encourages thoughtful spending of tax dollars on education. She will focus on providing accessible and affordable learning opportunities for young people after high school.

Environment: Ballard believes good stewardship of our natural resources carefully balanced with strong economic growth will help ensure future generations can enjoy the beauty and vitality of the area.

Fiscal responsibilty: Though the North Carolina General Assembly has eliminated $2.75 billion of debt in recent years, our state budget still struggles with billions of unfunded liabilities.  More must be done to prevent future generations from being overwhelmed with more crushing debt. There must be meaningful action to ensure timely balanced budgets and higher accountability of government agencies and administrators who spend your tax dollars. Underlying problems with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should also be addressed. Deanna will work to build a brighter future by paying down the debt and focusing on opportunities to grow the economy. These positive steps will take time, but she is dedicated to putting in the hours and effort needed to make it a reality.

Wes Luther

Education: “We must do more for our public schools and public school teachers. We need to raise teacher pay to meet the median wage for teachers nationwide. We need to bring the per-pupil spending up, update outdated textbooks, and invest in infrastructure for older schools. For higher education, we should consider expanding the NC Promise Tuition Plan to more of our public universities can be affordable for all.”

Veterans: “We need to commit to more funding for the VA and its programs, as well as investing in better program to inform veterans on the wide variety of programs available to them. Our VA hospitals do great work, but we need to make sure they’re convenient to get to no matter where in the state our veterans live.”

Healthcare: “Single-payer healthcare is a goal to work towards for NC. All Americans are entitled to quality healthcare. We need to close the Medicare gap in NC immediately, and fight for the Affordable Care Act at every turn. My sister has Jouberts Syndrome – a genetic disorder, and it’s important that we continue to provide healthcare for families who are under tremendous stress already.”

Environment: “We have an incredibly beautiful state full of stunning natural resources that must be protected for our health, our economy, and our future generations. We must make corporations responsible for pollution that they cause, as well as the resulting health problems. As a student of Sustainable Technology, there are so many opportunities for our state in sustainable energy that will free us from dependency on harmful fuel sources.”

Economy: “I believe that the minimum wage MUST be raised to help lift a large section of our community out of poverty. If any executive complains that they can’t provide a living wage for their employees, it’s a sign that their business model is seriously flawed. I understand the it will have to be raised in phases, and maybe on a sliding scale for different metro areas, but no one should have to work 3 jobs in order to make ends meet. NC must also reinstate solar tax credits and encourage sustainable energy industries.”

Video of responses from Jordan, Russell and Luther during Tuesday’s Meet the Candidates Forum can be found below.