State Sen. Ellie Kinnaird of Orange County, a leading progressive voice on a wide range of issues, is leaving the General Assembly after 17 years in the Senate. Her departure comes on the heels, as it were, of decisions by state Reps. Jennifer Weiss, D-Wake, and Deborah Ross, D-Wake, to leave as well — Weiss didn’t seek re-election in 2012 and Ross, who was re-elected, departed to become general counsel at the Triangle Transit Authority earlier this year.

This isn’t just a changing of the guard among Democrats, it’s three notable women leaders lost from the General Assembly at a time when female perspectives, though much needed, are roundly ignored by the white Republican men in charge.

Kinnaird said she’s planning to help an effort to make sure that citizens can still vote in North Carolina — with a photo ID if need be — despite the Republicans’ voter-suppression legislation. I’ve copied the statement she issued below. Here’s the reaction from N.C. Democratic Party Chair Randy Voller:

“We commend and honor Sen. Kinnaird’s rich tenure in the North Carolina Senate. Throughout her 17 years of service in the Senate, and previous service as the Mayor of Carrboro, Sen. Kinnaird has been a champion for jobs, education, the environment, women, and building community,” Voller said. “We know Sen. Kinnaird will devote her time and voice to electing Democrats in the 2013 local elections and help fight for Senator Hagan and all Democrats in 2014. Most importantly, it illustrates the character of Sen. Kinnaird to devote her time and energy to ensuring North Carolinians have the resources they need to cast a ballot in our state, this is the mark of a true Tar Heel hero.”

Here’s the note Kinnaird sent to supporters early today:

Dear Friends,

This is my last newsletter to you. After a great deal of thought, I have decided to resign my position in the North Carolina Senate. It has been a great privilege and I have been honored to be chosen to represent the people of this district. Thank you for the opportunity to serve in this way, thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas and for your support over the years.

It has also been a pleasure to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate and our superb, professional legislative staff as well as elected officials and their staff in the towns and counties in the district. I have years of happy memories working to make a difference in the lives of the people of North Carolina. I want to say a special thank you to Kathie Young, my Legislative Assistant, whom many of you know as the warm and welcoming voice to all who call or come to the office. Kathie and I have been friends and political workers together for over 30 years. When I was elected, I asked her to come with me on this journey and it has been a happy shared adventure and partnership for seventeen years.

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. From the Republicans’ denial of health care security for our people to their failure to promote a vibrant work force through support for our education systems at all levels and from their tax cuts for the wealthy and their tax increases for the poor and middle class to their efforts to deny people their right to vote, they have been pursuing a divisive and, I think, immoral agenda. The needless pain and suffering the Republicans have brought upon us that I have written about add up to a huge setback for North Carolinians from all walks of life. My own personal sadness is the dismantling of my environmental, social justice and death penalty efforts.

I am heartened, however, by the many grassroots efforts to fight for the rights, the health and safety and the opportunities our people need and deserve from the Moral Monday movement to the many non-governmental organizations that advocate for the people of our state, not the special interests. 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. I am going to work for candidates in the next election who reflect our values. The values of all those who came to Moral Mondays and who have contacted me by emails, calls and letters expressing your dismay at what has happened to our progressive and forward-looking state. I look forward to working together to change this course and restore our state to the shining beacon it was for so long.

Thank you again for the opportunity to serve the people of this district.

My best to each and every one of you.