As Shakespeare wrote, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” And these are uneasy days for Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. Barca is a reluctant supporter of the Foxconn deal which would benefit his district, but his Democratic colleagues are making a political stand to oppose the legislation.
As Barca explained in an op-ed appearing in the Wisconsin Gazette, he voted for the Foxconn deal last Thursday because that’s what his constituents wanted.
“At the end of the day, all politics is local,” Barca wrote. “As I traveled my district over the last few weeks, I spoke with countless constituents and heard from nearly every major local leader in Kenosha and Racine that they supported this plan. That’s why I voted yes today.”
But don’t confuse Barca’s vote for the bill to mean he’s actually supporting the bill even though his vote for the bill supported the bill.
“Still, Gov. Walker and Republicans should not mistake my vote for acceptance of their failure to negotiate a better deal for Wisconsin – one that includes significantly greater accountability and protections for taxpayers.”
“Our fight to improve this deal is not over. Along with my Democratic colleagues, I’ll work tirelessly to make this a better deal. When this bill reaches the Committee on Joint Finance, we’ll push to reinstate environmental protections, to ensure preferences for Wisconsin workers, contractors, and suppliers, and to make sure that more than the southeastern part of our state benefits from this deal.”
However, Scott Bauer at the Associated Press reports that Barca’s fellow Democrat state Rep. Lisa Subeck of Madison is unhappy with her leader.
Subeck, in an e-mail sent to all Assembly Democrats obtained by the AP, accused Barca of failing “on all accounts” to differentiate his views on Foxconn with that of the rest of Democrats who voted against the measure. She was particularly upset with Barca for holding an impromptu news conference in the Assembly parlor, right around the corner from his office, shortly after the evening vote Thursday.
“I am also concerned that the message you conveyed,” Subeck wrote. “It seems you were trying to justify your own vote rather than share the caucus perspective consistent with our agreed-upon message.”
She said that Barca’s public comments “have not been consistent with the majority position of the caucus and have served counter to our interest.”
Barca wrote in response that he hadn’t planned to have a news conference but after the Thursday vote “we had one outlet in particular that was very aggressive and several others that wanted to talk.” Barca said his staff asked the reporters to move to the nearby parlor, where he and Assistant Majority Leader Dianne Hesselbein of Middleton and Rep. Mark Spreitzer of Beloit answered questions.
Barca spokeswoman Olivia Hwang said in an e-mail that it was known Democrats had different opinions on the Foxconn bill and he supports efforts to oppose legislation they believe is wrong for their district or the state.
Barca’s spokesman told the AP that the Democratic leader is not planning on testifying at the Joint Finance Committee public hearing, even though the hearing is being held not far from his district in Sturtevant, WI. So Barca is not working “tirelessly” to change the bill after all, lest his criticisms of the bill be heard by his close-by constituents. Or, heaven forbid, any praise he might have for the Foxconn deal might be heard back in Madison.
While Barca knows how much the legislation would benefit his district, and he knows how much his constituents support the bill, he is spinning his vote as not supporting the bill. And when given a convenient opportunity to address his criticisms of the bill, Barca decides to take a pass.
So which message is more important to Barca, the one he’s spinning in Madison or the one he’s sending to his constituents? Part of being a leader is actually leading. It’s clear that Barca likes being a Democratic leader. It’s just unclear in which direction.