Despite the fury of Democrats over the Republican stranglehold in Raleigh, finding a challenger willing to run the gauntlet of a big-money Senate race with the potential to get nasty had proven tough.
Nearly $1 million was spent by Davis’ campaign and by outside groups on Davis’ behalf in the 2012 election, which devolved into an onslaught of attack ads smearing Davis’ Democratic opponent.
While many in the party were ecstatic to have Hipps step up to the plate, her closest friends asked her if she was sure she wanted to do this.
“Somebody has to have the courage to run and say ‘OK, I’ll just go through that,’” said Hipps. “I am realistic enough to know it can be rough and that my character can be attacked. I just have to remember who I am when I go into this race because I plan to be the same person when I come out, winner or loser.”
Hipps, from Waynesville, has spent 40 years in public education. She doesn’t have much of a political record, but that could prove her forte, since Republican operatives can’t attack a record that doesn’t exist.
But she has always been closely involved with politics. Hipps is probably best known as the wife of Charlie Hipps, who was a state senator for seven years in the 1980s and then district attorney for the seven western counties for 12 years. He died from an unexpected heart attack while still in office in 2003.
Though Charlie was well-known, charismatic and revered — and worked in the same counties that the Senate seat spans — Hipps said she can’t expect that to carry her.
“Charlie has been gone almost 11 years. A lot of voters aren’t going to remember him. Some will, but I can’t rely strongly on his record,” Hipps said.
Hipps, 68, retired a couple of years ago, but retirement doesn’t become her. She worked fulltime while raising three children — which was somewhat rare in the 1970s and ‘80s — even though it wasn’t financially necessary for her to do so.
“I expected to work. I wanted to work. It was challenging to me,” Hipps said. “Now that I am quote ‘retired,’ I miss work. I want to solve more puzzles than just sudoku.”
Hipps’ long career in public education has taken many forms. She’s been a school counselor, a school psychologist, a special needs coordinator and an academically gifted coordinator.
She also worked for the state education department for several years as a science curriculum coordinator. It was her job to develop and implement new methods for developing science literacy in students, and she was at the forefront of new hands-on, experiential learning methods.
She later worked as a curriculum trainer and workshop leader for a math and science textbook company. She even worked briefly in Jackson County Schools and at Cherokee High School.
Despite working and raising children, Hipps headed back to school several times over the course of her career, racking up three different undergraduate degrees and three master’s degrees. Most recently, she went back to school in 2006 to get her nursing degree and master’s in nursing, because, as she puts it, she “always wanted to.”
“I guess I have been a lifelong student when you get right down to it,” Hipps said.
Hipps said public education will obviously be her number one platform, but not her only focus.
“I was particularly upset about what was happening in education, from preschool through college,” Hipps said.
But she disagrees with the direction Republicans are taking the state on many fronts.
“I was shocked at the bills that were introduced last year. And I thought somehow there would be some reasoning and those bills would not be passed and yet they were,” Hipps said.
Hipps defined herself as a moderate Democrat.
“I think I would be a voice for Western North Carolina and moderate values for this state,” she said.
Hipps’ parents are originally from the mountains of McDowell and Mitchell counties, but she grew up in Charlotte, where he father went to work for a construction company as a purchasing agent. She met Charlie Hipps while attending UNC-Chapel Hill, married him and followed him back to Waynesville.