Conway High School Ronny Willhite, Creative Commons

Conservative Christian candidates won both Conway School Board seats Tuesday, including one they had lost less than a year ago.

In Zone 5, Bill Milburn,  a retired police major, took back the seat he lost last May to Trey Geier, an Army combat veteran and roofing businessman. In Zone 4, Trip Leach, chief financial officer of New Life Church in Conway, defeated Ruthann Curry Browne, a teaching artist and retired teacher.

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With all precincts reporting, unofficial vote totals from the Faulkner County clerk’s office showed Milburn with 885 votes to Geier’s 851, and Leach with 651 votes to Browne’s 630. (The county’s election returns do not yet include 29 provisional and overseas ballots, many of which likely were not in Conway’s Zones 4 or 5.)

Bill Milburn

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Conway Schools
Trip Leach

 

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The election results mean the Conway board will now include six of the seven members who either voted for or later supported the banning of two books with LGBQT+ themes, along with restrictions on which restrooms transgender students could use. The restroom policy was already in place, but board members chose to discuss and put it in writing, a process that led to crowded board meetings, protests and even violence.

While candidate statements after Tuesday’s elections were invariably polite, a conservative group, Conway Back to the Basics, often called B2B, was gloating. Back to the Basics signs were posted beside at least some of Milburn’s signs, with the message “God’s got this!”

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Julee Dunekacke Jaeger, a scientist who’s politically active, shared images of a sign she saw posted today beside a Milburn sign at Favre Lane and Donaghey Avenue in south Conway. Jaeger said the B2B sign was not there Tuesday.

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In claiming victory, though, Milburn departed from his attack-laden campaign against Geier and wrote on Facebook, “To everyone who prayed, walked a neighborhood, made a phone call, sent a text, put a yard sign out, had conversations with a friend, waved signs or contributed financially, a humble, heart felt thank you. That doesn’t really seem sufficient but it’s the best I have to offer. … Thank you for the trust you have put in me. I will do my best to fairly represent every student.”

Geier was eloquent in defeat. “At the end of the day, I just didn’t get enough votes,” he wrote on Facebook. “I am proud of running a race centered on integrity, transparency, and my values, even when faced with adversity and accusations.”

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Geier added: “Mr. Milburn and I both care about the district. We may differ in some of our values and/or perspectives but we both want a strong district for our families. I wish to extend best wishes to Mr. Milburn and challenge him to represent all of Zone 5, not just those who look like him or think like him.”

Leach, first elected to the board in 2014, thanked his supporters, from those who posted yard signs to those who donated financially or otherwise encouraged him.

“This was a team victory. You guys were a big part of that victory,” he wrote.

Browne said in an email that she was proud of her team “and how we connected with people. … I also want to congratulate Trip Leach for running a positive race for the seat. … Our interest in the activities of the school board will remain strong!”

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The mood was somber, though, among progressive residents and parents.

In a video shared today with her Facebook friends, Jaeger said, “Make no mistake about it. People in this group, they don’t treat all Christians equally in this town. There are members of this group who have literally said that Methodists are satanic. They have called out Hendrix College, a Methodist institution, as being satanic because the church split this year,” in a nationwide division over LGBQT+ issues. “The Christian Nationalists in Conway attacked the good Christian Methodists that were on the ballot and said, ‘Oh, they aren’t Christians,’ and did it in a number of ways.”

“We are headed into some very dark times on the Conway School Board,” Jaeger warned.