Kathy Bernier has been a stolidly conservative voice in the Wisconsin Legislature for more than a decade. But in recent weeks the state senator and former county election clerk has enraged her party with some blunt claims:
President Joe Biden won Wisconsin. There’s no evidence that widespread voting fraud occurred in 2020. The GOP’s partisan investigation into the 2020 election is a “charade” that needs to be “wrapped up sooner rather than later.”
Her Republican brethren have responded with fury.
Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who’s leading that investigation, called for her to resign in late December. On Sunday, someone leaked a private draft of the legislation she was working on to change election law to the right-wing conspiracy theory website The Gateway Pundit. President Trump went after her the next morning.
“Some RINO Republicans in Wisconsin are working hand in hand with others to have drop boxes again placed in Wisconsin. These fools are playing right into the Democrats’ hands. Drop boxes are only good for Democrats and cheating, not good for Republicans,” he said.
That sent other Republicans scurrying for cover and sniping at each other, with multiple lawmakers disavowing her bill—which she had crafted specifically to respond to GOP concerns and push back at what she thought was overreach by Democrats in expanding ballot access in 2020.
This has all ticked off Bernier, who announced earlier this month that she would retire from office at the end of her term. She told VICE News that she’s “cuss-word angry,” seriously thinking about quitting the party and wouldn’t vote for Trump if he’s the 2024 nominee after enthusiastically supporting his last election.
Here’s what she had to say about the direction her party has taken. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
VICE News: You were a county election clerk. What do you make of the 2020 election? Do you think it was overall free and fair, and Biden won?
Bernier: Democrats became very creative during a pandemic in turning out Democrat voters to the point of borderline legality issues.
Does that mean that the people that they managed to get to the polls to vote were not legitimate voters? No, it does not mean that.
There is not proven voter fraud throughout the state.
President Trump’s Monday statement seemed to target you. How did that make you feel?
I am extraordinarily angry, I mean, cuss-word angry, with Donald Trump and the people who seem to think that we’re not conservatives, that we don’t support our state and our country. Donald Trump is not the United States of America. I loved his policies. I loved his work ethic. But his lying to support his position that he's the legitimate president is not factual. He has not proven it.
He didn't attack me by name. He called me a RINO. That's just stupid, that's what I thought. I thought he has obviously never seen my voting record. So what the hell would he know?
Did the attacks you’ve taken from Republicans play any role in your decision to not run for another term?
No—well, that would probably not be truthful; it helped. But when you get up beyond Medicare age, you think, “What do I want to do in my golden years?”
What's it like when President Trump and Republicans go after you?
Well, to be perfectly honest, I want him to know who I am. I want him and others at the federal level to understand that you're hurting our country by doing this. You've had ample opportunity to prove your assertions. You have not proven them. I believe Trump has had 60 court cases, and lost them all.
You're basically the only local Republican lawmaker saying, “Trump is lying. He lost in Wisconsin.” That’s what you're saying, right?
Yeah, that is what I'm saying, with a caveat: He is lying. He did not win Wisconsin. And he has provided no proof otherwise.
Why do you think your colleagues haven't been willing to say the same thing?
It’s called politics.
The fact that you aren’t the one that's lying doesn’t protect you from the actual sin, in my opinion. If you know what is being said is a lie and you stay silent, that's wrong in itself.
There are several colleagues who have let me know they agree with what I say and what I do. They won't say it. They won't stand up and challenge, because it puts them in the limelight. They don't want the limelight. They just want to represent their district, they just want to get reelected, and it might harm them in that case.
It sounds like you think that ballot drop boxes are a good idea.
They are a good idea.
I know some hardcore Republicans believe that there should be no absentee voting at all. But we've always had absentee voting. I vote absentee because I've missed a couple primaries because I've had to be down here on a Tuesday in February.
The average, everyday voter, no labels, wants to make sure their ballot gets into the clerk because they can't necessarily trust the United States Postal Service, that it's going to get there or that it's going to get there in a timely fashion.
It’s just a way for the voter to get their ballot to the clerk in a secure box versus a mailbox, which is probably less secure, to be perfectly honest.
If Trump is the GOP nominee in 2024 would you vote for him?
No.… I would leave it blank. I would never vote for Biden, ever.
I just won't vote for him again, and I just hope that the Republicans come out with [Florida Republican Gov.] Ron DeSantis, actually.
I am not ever going to be a Democrat. But I’m really revisiting independent.
How do you feel about your party right now and why are you considering becoming an independent?
Because the conspiracy theorists have taken over the party.