Inside Politics

NC Sen. Kinnaird leaving legislature in 9th term

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A veteran North Carolina state senator who spoke out on social justice issues and was at times the lone voice of opposition to bills no matter which party led the General Assembly announced her resignation Monday.

Democratic Sen. Ellie Kinnaird cited, in part, discouragement with the Republican-led legislature and said she's now be poised to help people get the photo identification they'll soon need to vote in North Carolina with passage of a sweeping elections overhaul bill last month.

Kinnaird - previously the mayor of liberal stronghold of Carrboro - was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and until her resignation, effective Monday, represented Chatham and Orange counties.

Kinnaird, 81, said she decided to leave in the middle of her ninth two-year term, less than a month after this year's budget-writing session ended, partially because of trouble getting legislation passed in the era of GOP control.

She explains why should couldn't work at the legislature any longer, and what she plans to do next.

"I think they have awakened a giant," said Kinnaird.

That giant could well be an 81-year-old Democrat fuming over a tumultuous summer session at the General Assembly.

"Really, 17 years of my work has been dismantled," she said.

Kinnaird's last straw was the new elections law. In addition to requiring a photo ID, it reduces early voting time and ends same-day registration. There are aspects she believes will suppress votes.

"African-Americans, they vote predominantly early voting and they vote straight ticket," said Kinnaird. "Now, those people who wrote that bill had that data. They knew full well what they were doing."

It's why she plans to combat the law with a new grassroots level voter drive -- teaming up with black churches, sororities and fraternities.

"If they don't have the voter ID, they will help them get it," she said. "They will make sure they go to the right place which is the DMV."

Making her resignation anything but a retirement, Kinnaird has already received unsolicited calls from the likes of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson offering help.

"People are angry," she said. "People have been harmed and they want to turn this around."

Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, and state Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller praised Kinnaird for her service and leadership. "Ellie is a true public servant, and she absolutely deserves the right to serve in whatever capacity she feels she can make the most impact," Nesbitt said.

In a statement, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said, "While she and I disagree on many policy issues, I have always found her to be a tireless advocate for her beliefs and for her constituents."

Democrats in her 23rd Senate District will choose someone to fill the remainder of her term through the end of 2014. McCrory is required by law to appoint their choice to the post.

Kinnaird is a widow with three children and three grandchildren.

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(Copyright ©2014 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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