Kinnaird resigns state Senate seat

Aug. 20, 2013 @ 01:14 PM

Ellie Kinnaird, the longtime state senator from Orange County and former mayor of Carrboro, resigned her post on Monday.

Kinnaird, 81, was in her ninth term serving the district that now spans Orange and Chatham counties.

Expressing frustration at the Republican-controlled General Assembly that has made it tough for progressive Democrats to realize their legislative goals, Kinnaird said in a statement that she believes her efforts would be better spent elsewhere.   

“What led me to this decision are the actions taken by the Republican majority in the legislature that has been a shocking reversal of the many progressive measures that I and many others have worked so hard to enact: measures that over the years had made North Carolina a model of moderate-to-progressive, pro-business but also pro-people public policy in the South,” Kinnaird said.

Kinnaird cited the grassroots Moral Monday effort being led by state NAACP President William Barber as the kind of activism she plans to become involved in, particularly the effort to get proper identification in the hands of voters so they cannot be denied the opportunity to mark their ballots under the state’s new Voter ID law. 

“It is here that I want and need to put my energy and efforts. I am working with others on a grass-roots project to make sure everyone in the state has a proper voter ID so that no votes are denied, even though the Voter ID bill is aimed at exactly that -- repressing the vote,” Kinnaird said.

Backers of the new voter ID bill said it was needed to forestall voter fraud that is both rampant and undetected.

Kinnaird also said she plans to work toward the election of candidates that reflect progressive values in the next election.

Kinnaird has served in the state Senate since 1997, and was most recently reelected in 2012.

A four-member district committee of the Democratic Party made up of two members each from Chatham and Orange counties will appoint a replacement to complete the remainder of Kinnaird’s term, which expires next year.

Committee members will have one vote for every 300 residents, giving Orange County about two-thirds of the votes in the selection process.

Matt Hughes, chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party, said Kinnaird has a lot more to contribute, but understands her frustration with the GOP-controlled legislature.

“I’m sure that made the decision to resign a lot easier,” Hughes said.

He said Kinnaird will always be remembered as someone who put the people she represented first.

“She has been such a fighter and always responsive to her constituents’ needs,” Hughes said. “She has a hands-on approach.  She’s not like many in office. She’s remarkable.”

Hughes said names of county officials and activists are already beginning to surface as possible replacements, but no one has approached him directly to say whether they intend to apply for appointment to the seat.

Kinnaird has said in the past that she wants to be replaced by a woman when she decided to step aside.

Chapel Hill Town Councilwoman Sally Greene said Kinnaird’s resignation represents a big loss for progressive politics in North Carolina.

 “No one in my experience was her equal in the consistency and strength of her commitment to progressive causes,” Greene said “Especially to those of us who are women in elected office, she was and remains an inspiration.”

State Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., D-Durham, said Kinnaird has been an exceptional leader.

 “She’s been a wonderful friend and supporter and a strong supporter for progressive causes,” McKissick said.

State Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, acknowledged that it’s difficult to serve as a member of the minority party.

“I think she was looking at how she could make the best contribution in the next year,” Insko said of Kinnaird’s decision to resign.

Insko said Kinnaird has been fearless and outspoken on racial and social equality causes.

 “She’s the conscience of the General Assembly,” Insko said.