Democrat Ellie Kinnaird of Orange County resigned her seat in the N.C. Senate on Monday, opting to support candidates whose values she shares and work on ensuring the right to vote.
“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,” she wrote. “I am also working on a grassroots effort to assure that people have a voter ID and are registered to vote.”
The state GOP’s “immoral agenda” items directly led her to the decision to resign, she wrote. She named a few examples of unwelcome changes, including the Republican majority turning down federal Medicare dollars, and tax reform that she said cuts taxes to the wealthy and increases them for the poor and middle classes.
“The needless pain and suffering the Republicans have brought upon us ... add up to a huge setback for North Carolinians from all walks of life,” she wrote. “My own personal sadness is the dismantling of my environmental, social justice and death penalty efforts.”
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In 2010, Kinnaird, 81, said she was looking for a qualified woman to run in her place, but ran again when no woman stepped forward.
Jay Bryan, an Orange County judge who served many years on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen with Kinnaird when she was mayor, 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 vocal 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.”
Kinnaird, a former music librarian, educator and attorney, got involved in politics with a strong grassroots backing, winning election in 1996 and defeating senior lawmaker Howard Lee in 2002 when redistricting pitted the two senators against one another. She was one of the most liberal voices in the 50-member state Senate.
It will be up to a Democratic committee in Kinnaird’s Orange and Chatham county district to select a replacement.
Staff writer Annalise Frank contributed to this story.