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Controversial school board member quits race, then rejoins after forcing surprise runoff election
BATON ROUGE - A longtime member of the East Baton Rouge School Board earned enough votes to force a runoff election for her seat despite bowing out of the race a little over two months ago. And now she tells WBRZ she plans to reignite her re-election campaign.
Connie Bernard, who has served on the school board for more than a decade, announced in September that she was ending her bid for re-election. However, thanks to the last-minute timing of her announcement, state election rules meant it was too late for her to formally withdraw from the election, and her name stayed on the ballot.
Despite quitting her campaign, thousands still cast their vote for Bernard, the sole Republican in the race. Her opponents were Joseph Britt, an independent, and Katie Kennison, a Democrat.
Bernard and Kennison each took in about 35 percent of the vote Tuesday night, with Bernard getting a slight edge in the actual vote count. After learning the election was going to a runoff, Bernard told WBRZ she had changed her mind and now plans to jump back into the race.
"My first thought when I woke up this morning was an incredible sense of gratitude for those supporters who chose to cast what could have been a meaningless vote for me over very diverse options. Those votes were not meaningless," Bernard wrote in a statement.
"After prayerful thought and discussion with my family and friends, I have decided to remain in the race for School Board, District 8. This was not my intention when I offered to withdraw in the primary election. However, it is clear that the voters in my district prefer the type of representation I have offered during my time on the Board. I feel an obligation to those voters and, most importantly, to the children in our Parish, to give them that option if they choose me in December."
Kennison told WBRZ she was "looking forward to the next phase of the election" and that she was "grateful" to those who voted her into the runoff.
Over the past several years, Bernard has faced calls to give up her seat, with some of that criticism coming from her fellow board members.
Bernard first made headlines in 2018, when she was caught on video berating a group of high schoolers hosting a party at a neighbor's house. In that video, Bernard was seen going on a profanity-laced tirade and grabbing one teen by the neck. She was criminally charged and ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor related to the outburst.
Though she stepped down as school board vice president weeks after that incident — citing her husband's declining health as reason for the move — she stayed on as a member of the board.
In 2020, Bernard was the target of a recall petition after she was caught online shopping during a school board meeting where attendees were discussing racism and other serious issues. She also made controversial comments at that meeting about Confederate General Robert E. Lee, which came during a discussion about renaming Lee High School.
The runoff election is scheduled for Dec. 10.
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