Ray Russell greeted and spoke to an excited crowd at the Watauga County Democratic Party rally on September 30th.  Ray struck a notable chord of striving for unity and respect, a theme that reflects the feelings of many voters.

The full text of his speech follows:

The November 2016 election was an awakening for many. The bright lights in an otherwise dark election were Roy Cooper’s election as governor and (locally) a majority Democrat County Commission in Watauga County—and wow are they doing great work for the county!

But the presidential election, Republican majorities in the U. S. House and Senate, and the continuation of the supermajority in the NC legislature cast a dark shadow last November. The (thankfully unsuccessful) assault on health care in the country is just the latest in a long string of attacks on who we are as a country. Look at the process Republican leaders in DC used in their attempts to on how to write laws—no serious committee meeting, hearings, or discussion. Bake the cake in the back room, put lots of nasty stuff in the middle, throw lots of icing on it, and force it down our throats. Where have we seen that before?  That has been standard normal operating procedure in NC for the last seven years. Once we were “first in flight” now we are “first in fright”!

In the wake of that election, many of us are still going through the stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Indeed, the last nine months has lived down to every expectation I had at both the state and federal level.

I lived in that anger stage for a while, but hopefully during the last 11 months I have channeled that anger into something productive. One thing was clear to me, more people had to step to the plate in races small and large in order to change this mess. I decided in March, that while I had no political experience, I do have life experiences, personal capital, and name recognition putting me in a position that I could make a run for office. Whether I deserved them or not, those were gifts I had been given, and I felt the weight of responsibility to step forward.

Out of all that, here’s the good news… We have an opportunity to change politics at both the state and federal level. But I can give you this forecast that has a 100% chance of coming true… The change will NOT because voters on the other side will be guilted into voting for Democrats. The coming election will NOT be a huge alter call followed by a Jimmy Swaggart-styled “I have sinned.” We will not win by simply being negative about their failures.

Many of you know that I originally went to college to be a minister—it’s my background and the language I know.  When I was in school, we were often reminded of The Apostle Paul’s words… “I have become all things to all people, so that by some means, I can win some.” My goal in that role was to understand the people, what really motivated them, and what made them tick. Then through that understanding, we tried to move people to something better. I had a professor who said it this way “You have to understand their want-to-er.” I suggest that our failure to listen and understand the country’s “want-to-er” is a critical factor that led to the current mess.

For example… 1) Why do 45% of Millennials never vote? 2) Why do so many people deny the climate change that is more and more evident around us? 3) Why do middle class and poor families vote for tax breaks for the most wealthy? 4) Why do people keep electing legislators who seek to destroy public education? 5) Why are so many people in such despair that they would turn to a snake oil salesman for healing? I have hundreds of those questions.

What do we do? Poll it? Slice and dice the electorate so that we never talk to the people we disagree with? Often we are so focused on the most partisan on the “other side” and forget that so many are approachable, IF we seek to understand and look for opportunities to engage. But now the hard part… to be heard, we must first be friends and respectful. If we will do that, we’ll find that that common ground is possible with many people.

Last week, I met a couple who are relatively new to our community and told them what I was doing. They said, “Last year, being new here, all we got was negative, hateful mailers about that race. We were sure one of the candidates had to be a good person there but we could not figure it out. So we did not vote for either candidate.” Knowing what an awesome person Sue Counts is, that statement pained me greatly.

There’s a thirst out there for something real… anything! Something decent and uplifting… anything! Something that transcends politics as we now know it. I’m encouraged every day by the registration efforts, the Persister groups, the grass roots efforts to influence legislation, just to name a few things. People are doing what needs to be done to effect change, and women are leading that charge!  At the same time, campaigns must do their homework on what makes people tick and formulate messages and policy that address what we learn.

The coming elections will not be JUST about Trump or Berger or Pope. It will be about who is perceived as honest, respectful, caring, listening, responsive, and who can truly move our state and our country forward. That’s what I seek to do and how I plan to win the 93rd House Seat in November 2018.

In the next 13 months, I will be proud to engage in that journey and discussion. We already have a great campaign committee. Our plan is to Respect, Listen, and Lead. I suggest that’s not a position of weakness, rather… a position of strength. We will conduct a campaign you will be proud to volunteer for, give to, and vote for. Our campaign will formally be kicked off first in West Jefferson on October 9 and then in Boone October 10. I will be most honored if you will join us on this journey.