At one time, State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, could have been a powerful man in state politics. After serving one term in congress and working in Washington, Barca returned to the state Assembly in 2009, eventually becoming the Democratic leader in 2011.
It should have been a time of growth for the Democrats. Governor Scott Walker pushed Act 10, a law limiting the collective bargaining rights of public employees, through the state legislature. Protests filled the Capitol and the streets of Madison. Recall petitions circulated and a couple of Republican state senators with personal issues dogging them were thrown out of office.
However, despite Barca rising “to national prominence as a leader in the struggle” (according to Wikipedia), the Assembly Democrats continued their 2010 decline. Republicans today control 64 seats in the state Assembly, nearly two-thirds of the chamber. Even redistricting can’t account for all of the Republican electoral successes.
Perhaps voters missed that genius move in 2013 when Barca decided the Democrats wouldn’t offer any amendments to the state budget because the majority Republicans wouldn’t consider them.
Now the Democrats in the state Assembly are ready to choose a new leader.
Some have blamed the Foxconn debate for Barca’s fall. He supports the enterprise zone that would allow Foxconn to build their new facility in Wisconsin, as does most of his constituents. But Barca’s caucus and all of the Democratic candidates for governor are opposed to the bill that is going through the legislature.
State Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, told Wisconsin Public Radio that she thought Foxconn gave younger members an excuse to get rid of Barca.
“We have a group of fairly young legislators who pretty much led this coup who feel that our current leader is not moving the caucus forward,” said Sinicki in a phone interview minutes before Barca’s announcement.
Sinicki said Barca’s decision to vote for the Republican Foxconn incentives bill was a factor in his departure. The Foxconn plant could be near Barca’s Kenosha district.
“This is a group of inexperienced legislators who really have not spent a whole lot of time legislating yet, and they were looking for any excuse to change our leadership,” Sinicki said. “I do think the Foxconn bill kind of gave this group more ammunition that they thought they could use against him.”
Regardless of the reason for Barca’s departure, in a caucus of only 35 members he probably knows which legislators wanted him out as leader and why. But as he looked around the Democratic Assembly caucus at the members who wanted him out, what did Barca think when he saw his likely successor, state Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh?
Hintz was once busted in a massage parlor prostitution sting. At the end of the debate over Act 10, Hintz roared at former Republican Rep. Michelle Litjens, “you are f—–g dead.” Now he gets to be the Democratic champion on every issue from economic development to (ironically) the rights of women.
We can only imagine that when he heard the news, Barca thought, “Seriously, as bad as things are for Democrats right now, you’re replacing me with him?”