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Jan. 7—EAU CLAIRE — State Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, had made up her mind in early summer she wasn’t going to seek a second term in the state Senate.

“When you reach 65ish, you start thinking about what you’ll do when you grow up,” Bernier said at a press conference Friday where she officially announced her decision to not hold her seat representing the 23rd Senate District.

Bernier, who was Chippewa County Clerk for 13 years before her 12-year stint in the Legislature, has defended the state’s election process, and believes the Republican Party must acknowledge that President Joe Biden won a fair-and-free election in Wisconsin and nationwide by defeating Donald Trump in 2020. She admits she was irked when former State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman criticized her after she recently said a review of the state’s election results should wrap up quickly.

“It’s very unfortunate (Gableman) took that personally, because he shouldn’t have,” Bernier said. “For him to go after me, that’s shameful.”

Bernier admits the criticism she’s felt over the past year almost made her want to run for office again. She is aware of at least one person who was willing to challenge her in a primary.

“That made me mad,” she said of the criticism. “I wanted to sling an arrow back, and I could.”

However, she decided “it wouldn’t be fair to run for vindictive reasons.”

State Rep. Rob Summerfield, R-Bloomer, congratulated Bernier on her retirement.

“I want to thank her for her years of service in local government and state government,” Summerfield said. “I want to wish her well. It’s been a pleasure to serve with her, and I’m happy for her.”

Rep. Warren Petryk, R-town of Pleasant Valley, noted that he and Bernier were elected to the Assembly together in 2010.

“It has been an honor to work with her throughout the years,” Petryk said in a press release. “Having a district adjacent to hers, I have worked with her on many proposals in which she has proven to be a tireless advocate for the Chippewa Valley both in the Assembly and in the Senate. I want to personally thank her for her service and dedication to the people of Western Wisconsin. Her knowledge and expertise will be missed and I wish her all the best.”

2020 election results were accurate

Bernier said she doesn’t regret standing up to party officials who questioned the 2020 election outcome. She has turned down interview requests by CNN and National Public Radio to discuss her views.

“I knew it would put my head on the chopping block in some circles,” she said. “I did it for the greater good.”

However, the disagreement over election results was not a factor in her decision to retire, Bernier said.

Bernier said she hasn’t changed politically.

“It is not that I am somehow now a liberal or a Democrat,” she said. “I don’t know if it will affect me in the Republican Party; I don’t think so.”

She added: “It was my goal to focus Republicans on the future of the Republican Party; it wasn’t to ‘diss’ President Trump.”

But Bernier didn’t shy away from criticizing Trump either, saying she was disappointed in his comments Thursday about the anniversary of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. She joked that she hopes she was on Trump’s radar.

“That’s a sad state of affairs, to say the least,” Bernier said of Trump’s comments, where he continues to insist he won the 2020 election. “I hope at some point he’ll say, ‘I accept the results. Let’s move forward.'”

Bernier said ultimately, denying the election outcome will not help the party move forward and win in future races.

“I am greatly concerned if we continue down this path in 2022 and beyond,” Bernier said. “If that is what they think, we will lose elections like crazy. If that happens, some Senate races will be in jeopardy, some Assembly races will be in jeopardy. You can’t win those races without the middle; we don’t win races with just Republicans we need the middle.”

Bernier plans to focus the final year of her term in the Senate on exploring changes to election laws, such as allowing some absentee ballots to be tabulated early.

“I am going to start training people on the electoral process, on what is fact, what is fiction,” she said. “My job isn’t done — I’m an elected official for another year. We will continue to propose bills that make the (election) process easier.”

She pointed out some areas where she was concerned about the election, such as third-party funding coming from people outside of Wisconsin, into the state to influence the election.

“Is that suspect? Absolutely. That’s not transparent,” she said.

Her 2023 plans include taking some more vacations, but she said she’d love to serve on some boards or commissions, and specifically mentioned the Wisconsin Elections Commission board as something she would pursue and accept if offered.

Bernier said she’s proud of her tenure in office, which also includes serving on the Lake Hallie village board. She won a seat in the state Assembly in 2010 by defeating incumbent Democrat Kristin Dexter. She served in the Assembly for eight years before winning the state Senate seat vacated by the retiring Terry Moulton. She picked up roughly 69% of the vote in defeating Democratic candidate Chris Kapsner in 2018.

Bernier is a lifelong Chippewa Valley resident, a UW-Eau Claire graduate, and has six grandchildren.

“It’s a service, and I’ve done my service,” she said. “My public service stands for itself.”