Ellie Kinnaird resigns from NC Senate

lbonner@newsobserver.com ablythe@newsobserver.comAugust 19, 2013 

Democrat Ellie Kinnaird of Orange County resigned her seat in the N.C. Senate, opting for a role far from the Legislature Building, in grassroots advocacy.

Kinnaird, who is in her ninth term, said in an email Monday that she had submitted her resignation, effective immediately.

“I feel that my energy and time is best spent to help get Democrats elected statewide and restore our standing as a progressive beacon of light in the southeast,” Kinnaird, 81, wrote. “I am also working on a grassroots effort to assure that people have a voter ID and are registered to vote.”

Kinnaird, who has served 17 years in the General Assembly, said in an interview that she decided to leave office before her term ended because she wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anything in next year’s short session. For the most part, Democrats are marginalized in the Republican-dominated Senate.

In her email, she named a few examples of the Republican majority’s “immoral agenda,” including turning down federal Medicare dollars, and introducing tax reform that she said cuts taxes to the wealthy and increases them for the poor and middle classes.

A former music librarian, educator and attorney, Kinnaird entered politics with a strong grassroots backing, as mayor of Carrboro and then as a state senator. She now lives in Chapel Hill.

Kinnaird counts among her accomplishments increasing tax credits for land conservation and requiring a physical record of votes after Carteret County lost more than 4,000 votes cast in 2008 when touch screen voting machines didn’t work.

She was one of the most liberal voices in the 50-member Senate. Even when Democrats ran the legislature, Kinnaird often did not see eye-to-eye with their business-oriented leaders.

“I guess I could always be characterized as a fish swimming upstream,” she said Monday. “I come from a district that has those very progressive values and felt they should be expressed and made into law whenever possible.”

Jay Bryan, an Orange County judge who served many years on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen with Kinnaird, described her as someone who stood strong in her principles and advocacy for the poor and vulnerable without “sounding shrill.”

“She learned how to be very diplomatic with people who opposed her principles without giving up on her principles,” Bryan said. “I really admire her grace.”

He described the critic of the death penalty and advocate for mental health services as “iconic in terms of her spirit and courage and willingness to take stands for people.”

After her almost two decades as a public servant, Kinnaird has the right to serve North Carolina in whatever way she sees fit, Martin Nesbitt of Asheville, the Senate minority leader, said in a statement.

A project Kinnaird is preparing will help voters get photo identification and remember their precinct, she said. Under a new law, voters must show a photo ID at the polls. Ballots cast by voters who go to the wrong precinct will be disregarded.

“What I want to do is try to remedy this radical agenda and work aggressively against this voter suppression,” she said. “I feel that is a serious step over the line. I want to make sure we undo that.”

In 2010, Kinnaird said she was looking for a qualified woman to run in her place, but ran again when no woman stepped forward. Now, it will be up to a Democratic committee in Kinnaird’s district, which includes Orange and Chatham counties, to select a replacement.

She is the second Democrat to resign her seat this year. In the spring, Wake County Rep. Deborah Ross stepped down. She was replaced by Grier Martin.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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