PANEL DISCUSSION (copy) (copy) (copy)

State Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, at a recent Cap Times Talk panel discussion.

PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

State Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, will run to serve as leader of the Assembly Democrats.

Hintz confirmed his plans in a text message Friday morning. The lawmaker will issue a letter announcing his intent Friday afternoon.

Hintz, 43, completed work on the state budget Wednesday as a member of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee. His name was floated as a contender to run for the leadership position in November, when the caucus held elections, but he declined at the time citing the birth of his first child.

A frequent critic of Gov. Scott Walker, Hintz has often weighed in as a member of the budget committee on issues ranging from transportation funding to tax policy.

Hintz's announcement comes the day after Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, announced he will step down as Assembly Minority Leader at the end of the month

In a statement, Hintz thanked Barca for "steering our caucus through challenging years while being a steadfast advocate for working families."

"I want to put our caucus in the best position to be successful going into the 2018 election," Hintz said in an interview. "We’re a big, diverse big tent party and our members have a strong set of core beliefs and shared values. I want to try to get us on the same page so we can not only be an effective opposition party but also offer a concrete, clear alternative so Wisconsin voters know we can do better."

The minority party met in closed caucus for several hours Thursday to discuss a change in leadership. In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, referred to the meeting as a "coup" executed by young, inexperienced legislators. Sinicki, along with some Republicans, also suggested the move was a result of Barca's support for a $3 billion incentive package for the Taiwanese electronics company Foxconn, which plans to build a manufacturing facility in his district.

Several Assembly Democrats took issue with that description. One conceded that the disagreement was largely generational, but said only about 12 of the party's 35 members supported keeping Barca in the leadership post.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, vehemently disputed that point, adding that the entire caucus was not present and those who were not there were not allowed to vote. Shankland served as assistant minority leader under Barca during the previous legislative session and currently serves with Hintz on the Joint Finance Committee.

"That is just completely, 100 percent, boldfaced inaccurate. The caucus is split just right down the middle," Shankland said in an interview. "To imply that only a third of the caucus supports Peter — I think actually he has majority support, to be quite honest. I think what he did yesterday in stepping down was incredibly gracious."

Lawmakers who supported a leadership change said they were frustrated with the way Barca handled the Foxconn issue as a representative of a caucus that largely did not support it, but not upset that he voted for the bill.

Hintz said the transition "doesn't have anything to do with Peter or the votes he's taken."

"I think it’s more important than ever that we’re on the same page in terms of demonstrating what our shared values are and contrasting them with a Republican party that’s never been more unpopular than it is now," Hintz said. "We’ve been working on that for some time, but I think with the 2018 election around the corner we want to put our best foot forward."

Assembly Democrats have been concerned for some time with their party's effectiveness in the Legislature and in elections — and those concerns were amplified in the wake of the November 2016 elections, according to multiple sources. 

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said she is grateful for Barca's years of service. Taylor said she will support Hintz for the leadership position.

"He’s a great leader. He’s courageous. He stands up for people," Taylor said in an interview. "I am grateful for Peter, his work all these years. I’m excited about Gordon. I think he's a great dynamic leader. It’s an opportunity for some new people to step up."

Taylor previously served with Hintz on the Joint Finance Committee, and was removed by Barca for the current budget cycle.

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The 2016 election gave Republicans a 64-35 majority in the Assembly, the largest edge they have had since 1957.

Asked why he believes he should lead the party, Hintz pointed in part to his ability, as a member of Generation X, to bridge the gap between the caucus's older and younger members.

If chosen, he said, he wants to "put our members in a position where they can best succeed."

Republicans were quick to point to two incidents that took place in February 2011. Hintz was cited in 2011 for sexual misconduct in connection to a prostitution sting that took place in Appleton, and paid a $2,032 fine. Later that month, immediately following about 60 hours of heated debate and a vote over Walker's contentious budget reform bill, Hintz yelled, "You're f---ing dead" at then-Rep. Michelle Litjens, a Republican.

Hintz apologized and Litjens said at the time she didn't believe the comment was meant for her directly, but rather the entire Republican Party for moving forward with the bill.

"I've got to live with it," Hintz said of the incidents in a 2014 interview with the Cap Times. "I'm in a better place in my personal life now, which makes a lot of things easier. I never stopped doing my job. I never hid from the public. I hold office hours, I go door-to-door. I’ve done my best to live my life with purpose, intent, mindfulness and accountability. And that’s all any of us can do."

Hintz also appeared in the 2006 documentary film "Air Guitar Nation" as his air-shredding alter ego "Krye Tuff." He took second place at the first annual U.S. Air Guitar National Championships in 2003 and is a member of the American Air Guitar Hall of Fame.

Hintz was first elected to the Assembly in 2006. 

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.