That is what Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, thought her Senate license plate would read when two senior senators gave up their seats last year.
Kinnaird — who has served in the N.C. Senate since 1997 — had thought the empty seats would mean she would go from the seventh to the third spot. This ranking is based both on seniority and importance.
But instead of moving up in seniority, Kinnaird, 79, moved down. Thirty-three seats down to be exact.
“I thought I would get senate plate number three and here I am at 40,” Kinnaird said. “That’s politics.”
With civic and political involvement that spans 47 years, she would know about politics.
But the dynamic in the Senate isn’t what she’s used to.
In the last election, the N.C. General Assembly became a Republican majority for the first time since 1898, causing Kinnaird to lose her seniority.
“We are an endangered species here,” she said. “I have about 15 bills and only about two will get approved.”
Kinnaird said she is worried that work done by Democrats will be wasted.
“Fifteen years of work will go down the drain,” she said.
Republicans are eager to reverse much of what Democrats have built up, she said. And a few of the issues on her mind — Pre-kindergarten education, environmentalism and the juvenile justice system — aren’t getting as much attention.
Kinnaird got her start in politics during the civil rights movement when she joined the League of Women Voters in Alabama in 1964. She continued her involvement with the league as she moved to Chapel Hill and got involved with the civil rights movement, which had been gaining momentum.
“All of these things really began brewing and cooking,” Kinnaird said.
She said every Wednesday for four years she stood outside of Chapel Hill’s post office to protest the Vietnam War.
Her activism turned political as she began to work on historic presentations and environmental issues in Carrboro just as the town was looking for another mayor. She decided to step up to the job in 1987.
“And I was just someone who didn’t have a good reason not to,” she said. “I really concentrated on getting the town to be a vibrant modern place where adults could have leisure entertainment.”
Cat’s Cradle and the Carrboro ArtsCenter were created during her time as mayor.
Eugen Merzbacher, a retired UNC professor, lives across the street from Kinnaird and remembers her from her time as mayor before he got to know her personally.
“She is very smart and knowledgeable,” he said. “She is a valued member of our community.”
She decided to run for N.C. Senate in 1996 and was elected in 1997.
The number of women serving is another one of the changes in the Senate today, Kinnaird said.
When she first became a senator, there were seven female members. Now there are five.
‘That’s my greatest disappointment,” she said. “Women see things differently.”
What hasn’t changed is her dedication to her beliefs.
“She gives another view point on a lot of issues and is not afraid to stand up on the Senate floor,” said Sen. William Purcell, D-Anson.
Kinnaird will often take up positions that others would if they were not concerned about political appraisal, said Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson.
“She is fearless among those lines,” he said.
Kinnaird’s goal now: to stick around until she knows her party and its goals will survive.
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