CHAPEL HILL — State Rep. Valerie Foushee and three others announced Wednesday their intent to seek state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird’s District 23 seat.
Foushee, a first-term Democratic lawmaker from Orange County, also has served as chairwoman of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board and the Orange County Board of Commissioners. She represents District 50, which covers parts of Orange and Durham counties.
“I’m pursuing this seat because Orange County is my home, and I want to be able to represent the entire county, as well as Chatham (County), in the legislature,” she said. “I understand the tensions between the rural and urban areas, and as a former representative of both, I am uniquely qualified to represent Senate District 23.”
The other candidates for Kinnaird’s seat that emerged Wednesday were retiring Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton; author and educator Amy Tiemann, and former Alamance County Rep. Alice Bordsen.
Kinnaird’s replacement will be chosen by the 23rd Senatorial District Executive Committee. The Democratic Party committee has two Orange County members, who will share 446 votes, and two Chatham County members with a total of 212 votes. The number of votes is based on each county’s population in the 2010 Census, with one vote allotted for every 300 residents. The date and location of the committee meeting have not been decided yet, said Matt Hughes, chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party.
Hughes said the right candidate is someone who can represent both counties’ interests and work across the aisles on issues that are more contentious.
“I think people want to see someone who can hit the ground running in the Senate, who has political experience and who has been very active politically,” he said.
If Foushee is elected, the party’s four-member House of Representatives District Executive Committee, which covers Orange and Durham counties, will appoint her successor.
Foushee said in a news released Wednesday that she already has the support of 12 local leaders, including state Rep. Deb McManus of Chatham; the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board; Orange County Commissioners Earl McKee and Bernadette Pelissier; Chapel Hill Town Council member Lee Storrow; and Carrboro Board of Aldermen member Michelle Johnson.
Chilton, who announced his intent to run Wednesday on Facebook, also has a number of early supporters. Besides representing local interests, Chilton said he would use the office to attract strong, progressive candidates that eventually could change the balance of power in the state legislature.
Kinnaird, 81, was Carrboro’s mayor for eight years before spending 17 years in the N.C. Senate. In announcing her immediate resignation Monday, she cited state Republicans’ “immoral agenda,” including the rejection of federal Medicaid dollars, tax cuts for the wealthy and tax increases targeting the poor and middle class. She plans to spend her time supporting candidates whose values she shares and ensuring all state voters can meet the new requirement for a government-issued photo ID.
Tiemann expects to formally announce her candidacy Thursday.
She said she shares Chilton’s view that the Senate seat could be an avenue for recruiting strong candidates and encouraging voters to come out to the polls. Kinnaird has been a “fantastic, progressive leader” and an inspiration, Tiemann said. Although Orange and Chatham counties would be her first priority, she also would like to address the legislature’s policies, which she thinks are keeping North Carolina from capitalizing on economic opportunities.
“I want businesses from all over the nation to come to North Carolina, and I feel like the current policies coming out of the legislature are detrimental to that,” Tiemann said.
Tiemann doesn’t have any previous experience in an elected office, but she said people have been encouraging her to run for several years. She is a Chapel Hill resident but works in Chatham County and is a member of the N.C. Council for Women and UNC’s Sexual Assault Task Force.
Bordsen, also a Chapel Hill resident, is the first vice chair of the Orange County Democratic Party and a longtime lawmaker from the 63rd District. She decided not to seek re-election last year because changes in her district made it “unwinnable,” she said. She and Kinnaird have been friends and colleagues for decades, and when Kinnaird was thinking about stepping down a few weeks ago, she asked Bordsen if she would be interested in the job, Bordsen said.
“She knew I could finish her term in a way she could be comfortable with,” she said.
Bordsen said she is no longer angry about the district changes and thinks her ability to understand the state’s mix of urban and rural, old and new industries, and varying ideologies will help her look out for the interests of Orange and Chatham voters. She also expressed concern that the process to appoint Kinnaird’s replacement might become too political.
“The campaign could create adversities,” she said. “And I don’t think that’s healthy for Democrats right now.”