I saw my friend, former senator and long-time client, Ellie Kinnaird, on The Rachel Maddow Show last night. She resigned from the North Carolina senate to work to ensure everyone has a voter ID. Maddow implied that Ellie left the senate to protest GOP policies. There might be a hint of truth to that but Ellie left the senate because she saw that she had more important work elsewhere.
You see, Ellie is an activist, not a politician. She’s an unassuming, unflappable Midwesterner who’s never been impressed with the trappings of power. She’s never forgotten where she came from or why she was in office.
For Ellie, being in office was primarily a way to give a voice to people who have none. She has always been an advocate for the underdog and those down on their luck. She also has never hesitated to speak truth to power and that trait has often annoyed a lot of people around her since her colleagues were the power.
When Democrats controlled the senate, Ellie was often a thorn in the side of the leadership. She stubbornly reminded her fellow senators of the impact of their legislation on the poor, minorities and the mentally and physically disabled. She introduced legislation for causes like gay rights that, at the time, seemed too far out of the mainstream only to see society catch up within a few years.
In essence, Ellie started a lot of uncomfortable conversations. Fortunately for us, they weren’t uncomfortable for her. Attorney General Roy Cooper once called her “the conscience of the senate.” That about nails it.
With Republicans in control, though, she was in a body that no longer had a conscience. Instead, the Republicans are guided by ideology and hellbent on forcing square pegs into round holes. Rigging elections and holding onto power is far more important than helping people gain the tools to succeed.
Instead of being ignored by a pompous and arrogant majority, Ellie is putting her energies where she can be more effective. She understands that the Republicans’ goal is to keep poor people, particularly African-Americans, from voting. Our job is to make sure they fail.
So Ellie is doing what she’s always done. She is rolling up her sleeves and getting to work. She’s setting an example that we all should follow. Going to rallies and protesting the GOP policies is a good way to get started, but now it’s time to get our hands dirty and do the hard work of organizing and activating to ensure that the GOP disenfranchisement scheme fails.
Thanks, Ellie, for your service in the senate and thanks for your leadership in the next phase of this fight for the soul of our state.