Oshkosh Democrat Gordon Hintz is emerging as a top pick to lead the Assembly Democrats.

Hintz, a member of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee who had been considering a run for governor, told the Wisconsin State Journal on Friday he is running to lead Democrats in the Assembly — a caucus that has seen its ranks diminish to levels not seen in 60 years.

If chosen by his colleagues, Hintz would replace Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, who announced Thursday he was stepping down as minority leader. The announcement came after a four-hour closed caucus meeting during which Barca’s future as caucus leader was debated.

Hintz had expressed interest in the position before the Thursday meeting, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the meeting told the Wisconsin State Journal. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the caucus deliberations.

On Thursday before the meeting, Hintz did not return multiple text messages or a phone call and he didn’t answer his locked Capitol office door. As he was walking to the meeting in the U.S. Bank building on the Capitol Square he said he didn’t know what was going to happen.

On Friday he confirmed he would run, and later released a statement:

“I would like to thank Representative Barca for steering our caucus through challenging years while being a steadfast advocate for working families. I’m humbled by the words of encouragement and support I have received from my colleagues and citizens across the state of Wisconsin. Democrats are a diverse, big tent party shaped by our unique experiences and perspectives. As a group, we have always believed in the values of community, fairness, and opportunity. As leader, I will work every day to contrast these core Democratic values with a Republican Party that has never been more unpopular than it is now.”

Hintz has emerged as the only Assembly Democrat in a leadership position to be floated for the minority leader position. The Democrats will likely set the date of the election next week.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, who served on the Legislature’s finance committee with Hintz until this year, said she would not run and was “excited” to support Hintz. Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, also said he is backing Hintz.

“I think Rep. Hintz is a really bright guy and someone who’s really good at building leaders and engaging talent and I think his ability to identify and grow talent is something that is fantastic,” said Brostoff, who added that he believed Barca was “someone who worked incredibly hard” and was “very committed” as leader of the Assembly Democrats.

Barca’s announcement to step down as minority leader came after a motion was made during the Democrats’ caucus meeting to remove Barca, a move that was backed by a group of more than a dozen Assembly Democrats, according to a source with direct knowledge of the debate.

Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, told Wisconsin Public Radio after the meeting Thursday that the caucus has “a group of fairly young legislators who pretty much led this coup who feel that our current leader is not moving the caucus forward.”

State and national Republicans — including Gov. Scott Walker — criticized the Assembly Democrats for ousting Barca because of his vote to approve a $3 billion incentive package for Foxconn to build its first U.S. factory in southeastern Wisconsin, where Barca lives.

Barca had been criticized publicly by his colleagues after the Foxconn vote but some lawmakers had privately grumbled about his leadership style before that.

Hintz, 43, has been in the state Assembly since 2006 and is a vocal critic of Walker and the Republican Legislature’s approach to funding road projects, K-12 education and tax policy. He entered the Assembly the same year he appeared in the documentary “Air Guitar Nation,” which documented the first time the U.S. competed in the Air Guitar World Championships.

In 2011, Hintz received a citation during a sting at an Appleton massage parlor, and also told then-Rep. Michelle Litjens, R-Winneconne, “you’re (expletive) dead” during a contentious debate over Walker’s collective bargaining measure known as Act 10. Hintz apologized for both events.

Republicans cited both incidents in attacking Hintz on Friday, calling him “sleazy.”

“While Republicans in the Legislature have fought to protect hard-working Wisconsin taxpayers, sleazy politician Gordon Hintz has created scandal after scandal, waging a personal war on women that shows that he doesn’t have what it takes to lead anyone — even the historically small Democratic caucus,” said Alec Zimmerman, spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

But Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, pushed back at his state party for the attack.

“We need to stop this stuff, on both sides. Whoever the (Assembly Democrats) decide will be their leader, I will stand ready to work w/him or her,” he tweeted.

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