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Russell, who won her primary uncontestedis a U. Army veteran, a substitute teacher and a long-time social worker who says she has helped clients dealing with addiction, socioeconomic inequality and new foster care parents. Russell sat down with West Virginia Public Broadcasting over the phone to discuss her campaign going forward.
Emily Allen: Can you kind of tell me a bit about yourself? Are you a lifelong West Virginian? Where did you grow up? Tina Russell: I actually grew up in Beckley. I was attending Concord College when I was about I just decided that was where I wanted to live. Russell: What had happened is, I had noticed a lot of activity on my social media platforms about a delegate in our district. I just felt like it was very important that somebody have a counter argument to him. So, I decided to run initially for that reason, but that's not the only reason.
I had already been helping other candidates, you know, by door knocking and making phone calls before I decided to run. I felt like I could make more of an impact if I ran myself, because I pretty much dedicated the last 25 years of my life to public service anyway, in the military, as a social worker, as a teacher. So why not do public service in a way that they can make an impact with my vote through the West Virginia legislature?
Allen: You're talking about Eric Porterfield. Something that kind of created big headlines last week was his loss in the Republican primary. What were you feeling when you saw that? What do you think that loss meant to your community and in Mercer County, in that district? Russell: Well, I think to be just completely honest, behavior has consequences. Even though a person is entitled to freedom of speech, they're not entitled to freedom of consequences for that speech.
Behavior has consequences. The people of Mercer County have spoken, and it doesn't represent their values, or he'd still be there. Allen: You are the first black woman to win a Democratic primary in Mercer County. Why do you think it's taken this long to have that sort of thing happen in Mercer County?
Russell: You know, I really don't know the answer to that. Actually, believe it or not, as far as per capita, we have actually one of the most concentrated minority populations in the state of West Virginia, in Bluefield. So, we've had people of color, men and women, win city council seats and other seats.
We don't know until we try.
My hope is that me running will encourage other people to run. That's my goal. It's never been just about me, it's about encouraging other people to step out there and say, you know, we all benefit from a diverse community. We benefit from other cultures and learning things that can help us to get along better. So, I'm hoping if nothing else, this will encourage other people — other black people, I'll just be frank — to run for office.
Allen: Your win comes at a time when people all over the country and all over the state are protesting violence and discrimination against the black community by law enforcement. Just a few weeks ago there were protests in Princeton and Bluefield. What have you heard on this topic from voters when you're out and about?
And, as a candidate for state house, what do you think the state should do about the topic? Russell: I think it's time to have a hard conversation. We accomplish nothing by being separate. Our kids need to play together. In my opinion, I need to have more conversations with people who don't agree with me, who maybe don't understand me, who may be a little bit afraid of me. They may have misconceptions about me based on race. Whether that's uncomfortable or not, we have to talk about it or it's not going to change.
Allen: Have you come across a lot of misunderstanding or misconceptions on the campaign trail, like that? Russell: Not as much as you would think. Very few. And I challenged him in a polite way. I learned a thing or two.
Allen: Something that was really big were the protests that were happening for the education omnibus bill [in ]. And you have experience as an educator I was very involved in that. I would go down to the Capitol, and I was there when we were fighting for the 5 percent raise. We tell everybody it was not just about that. It was about PEIA, it was about more supportive services and mental health services in schools for kids, more social services — there was a lot of stuff we wanted.
It was never just about money. It was about what's best for our students, but what's best to help us best provide for our students, as well. If teachers are paid a living wage, and they get cost-of-living raises, they're better to care for themselves, which means they're going to be better at caring for their students. Allen: Wh at are some issues that you're hearing that are important to voters and the community, that maybe the rest of West Virginia isn't aware of? But I think one of the big concerns about the southern part of the state is we kind of feel like we're last on the totem pole sometimes, as far as getting access to certain things.
Like, road repair. We feel like a lot of times the northern part of the state will get those things before we do. And that's a big concern here. Russell is the only Democrat running for one of three seats in District 27, encompassing Mercer County and part of Raleigh County.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member. Mountain Stage. WVPB Education.
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Ric Macdowell. Allen: What encouraged you to run for office? I call it a backhanded compliment. Emily Allen.
Emily Allen works in Charleston covering the state Legislature and public affairs throughout southern West Virginia. See stories by Emily Allen. It's the power of community. Your donation today will help keep us strong and vital.
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