How does a yo-yo champion plan to take on Marco Rubio? Ken Russell dishes on his U.S. Senate bid

He'll have to get through Val Demings first.

Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell has embarked on his latest tour.

Russell is taking in Florida counties, a few at a time, working to build his name recognition and promoting the need for clean water, improved wages and affordable housing in a bid for the U.S. Senate.

A Democrat, Russell hopes to unseat U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in 2022. First, Russell will have to win a Democratic Primary that also is expected to include Central Florida Congresswoman Val Demings.

A Martin County High School graduate who earned a degree at the University of North Carolina, Russell toured the world as a yo-yo champ, following in his parents’ footsteps. While the family retains the brand in Stuart as Russell Promotions, the Coconut Grove resident went his own path, building a water sports gear company before running for office in 2015.

He briefly ran for Congress in 2016.

The News Service of Florida has five questions for Ken Russell:

You’ve been in local elected office for about six years. You’ve looked at the House. Why is the U.S. Senate the next step? What do you believe you can bring to the Senate that Val Demings can’t or Marco Rubio isn’t delivering?

Russell: Well, I don’t look at politics as what steps do we need to take to further our career. It’s really about what problems we need to solve. And that’s how I got into this. I was just a surfboard salesman working in the ocean, worried about contamination, got in a fight with a city about contaminated parks and found a way to solve that. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the last six years at the city of Miami, solving hard issues, whether it’s environmental, social justice, government transparency, etc. The biggest problem we have right now, the existential issue in our democracy lies in the Senate, and it lies square at the feet of Marco Rubio. … I mean, what I represent is the outsider’s view. What most Floridians are thinking about and talking about, that’s what I live every day, because I’m not in the political bubble and conversation of this food fight. I’m recognizing what people are really trying to see the Senate accomplish.

Demings, has a couple of years of national exposure, boosted by serving as an impeachment manager, which affords her ties to party faithful and their cash. You said you won’t go negative in the Primary. How do you expect to get your name out? 

Russell: I will be walking, driving, flying, swimming, whatever it takes to learn about the issues every county is facing. One of the biggest things is water quality. It means something different in every corner of the state. But it’s such a dire issue for us that nobody’s really addressing well.

You took exception to the Miami Herald defining you as “Anglo.” How important is your Japanese heritage, and what role do you see that playing in the contest?

Russell: Sure, with a name like Ken Russell, my Scotch-Irish background is what seems most predominant. But my first name, Ken, is not. It’s actually Japanese. It means health. My mother is 100% Japanese, and she came to the United States in the 1960s. That’s a big part of my identity. I went to university in Japan. I’ve met the Japanese Prime Minister. I’ve done business over there. And it was very important to me to represent that, my heritage, my culture, as I entered politics. But what I most didn’t want to see was the press begin to create a dichotomy of race, where they’re pitting the Anglo candidate versus the Black candidate versus the Hispanic candidate. So, it was not so much to make sure everyone knows that I’m Asian-American, but to make sure they’re not cubbyholing me incorrectly and starting this narrative that doesn’t serve anyone.

How has traveling the world as a yo-yo champ, growing up in a famous yo-yo family, shaped your outlook toward politics?

Russell: Sure, everything you need to know in politics you can learn in the world of yo-yos, right? I was so lucky to have this great job where I traveled to over 50 countries, learned multiple languages, worked with kids and sold millions of yo-yos. Most importantly, from that I was a small business owner, really trying to see what so many Americans are going through right now, in trying to come out of this pandemic and get their businesses back on their feet. I’ve been through that. And having an international experience also speaks to what I’d like to see in the Senate, a better dialogue on international policy that’s really results-oriented. So, I learned a lot in those formative years when I was slinging yo-yos. But who knows how that will come in handy as we move forward?

And finally, while the signs so far indicate the online creator isn’t as clever as the one behind Congressman Devin Nunes’ cow, you already have a parody Twitter account following you. Florida is going after social media companies. What are your thoughts on such forms of social media political discourse?

Russell: The dialogue of the creative social media crowd, it must be encouraged. I mean, that’s their version of holding truth to power, you know, presenting truth to power, holding power to account. Whether through satire or parody, I welcome that. It’s a great conversation to have.


Republished with permission from The News Service of Florida.

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