Ellie Kinnaird resigns from NC Senate after 17 years

After 17 years serving Orange County as one of the most liberal voices in the N.C. Senate, Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, is leaving an increasingly conservative legislature.

Kinnaird, 81, announced Monday that she was resigning from her seat to pursue a grassroots project to make sure people can still vote following the legislature’s passage of a bill that will require voters to have a government-issued photo ID.

“It’s a difficult decision, but one that I made feeling confident that it was the right decision,” Kinnaird said in an interview. “I could not accomplish anything in the second session.”

The N.C. General Assembly adjourned from its regular session late last month, and the short session is in May. Kinnaird, who is in her ninth term in the N.C. Senate, said she will work with churches and community groups to ensure that people have an appropriate photo ID and know where they’re voting. She said now, if voters go to the wrong precinct, their vote will not count.

“I’ve been working for several months on this, and I realized it was something that could really make a difference,” she said. “Perhaps we could turn this tide, that’s the goal.”

Finding a replacement

Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor who specializes in Southern politics, said Kinnaird has been one of the most liberal state legislators.

“She has been the quintessential Orange County representative in the legislature,” he said. “She’s been less effective in the last few years because she’s been the minority, but she’s had a long and distinguished career in both the local and the state government.

“I don’t think anybody would begrudge her the opportunity to resign and open up the seat for someone else — let a new leader emerge.”

Matt Hughes, chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party, said he has had several people contact him about potentially replacing Kinnaird.

“Needless to say, there have been people who have been interested for several years in the Senate seat,” he said, adding that “community activists, elected officials and formerly elected officials” have all contacted him.

Kinnaird has said in the past she wants a woman to take her seat.

Rep. Valerie Foushee, D-Orange , said that she might be interested in the position.

“We’re still trying to digest the fact that Sen. Kinnaird is no longer going to represent us,” she said. “Other than being interested in the process and what’s available to me — that’s as far as I am right now.”

Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich declined to comment about her interest in the seat.

Kinnaird’s replacement will be nominated by an executive committee comprised of Democratic officials from Orange and Chatham County.

Gov. Pat McCrory will formally appoint the nominee to serve the remainder of Kinnaird’s term, Hughes said, adding that he hopes a replacement will be found before the legislature convenes to possibly override McCrory’s recent vetoes.

‘A true public servant’

Before taking the Senate seat, Kinnaird was elected in 1987 as mayor of Carrboro and served for four terms.

“She has left an indelible mark on Orange County,” Hughes said.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Lee Storrow said Kinnaird responded quickly to constituents’ needs.

“She really was a true public servant,” he said. “And still is.”

Rich said Kinnaird was a mentor to women in politics.

“She kind of led the pack for those of us looking to get into politics,” Rich said.

In a public letter, Kinnaird said N.C. Republicans have a divisive and immoral agenda.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said. “We were always a moderate, progressive state. Now all of this is going backwards.”

City Editor Jenny Surane contributed reporting.

state@dailytarheel.com

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