PANEL DISCUSSION (copy) (copy) (copy)

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

Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, was chosen by his colleagues in the Assembly to lead them once Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, steps down at the end of the month.

Hintz, 43, urged his colleagues to focus on unity and becoming an "effective voice for Democrats across Wisconsin," following the vote on Tuesday.

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

"No one is going to hand us anything, and the pendulum of change sometimes needs a push," Hintz told his fellow lawmakers.

The minority party met in closed caucus earlier this month to discuss a change in leadership, leading to Barca's decision to resign from his post. No vote was taken to force the veteran lawmaker out, but supporters of the move said they had a majority if needed. 

Rep Sondy Pope, D-Mount Horeb, asked during the Tuesday election whether caucus members could speak against a nominee, but was told caucus rules prohibited it. Pope said after the vote she didn't personally want to speak against Hintz, but wanted to dissuade others from running if additional challenges to leadership positions were mounted. Pope said she supports Hintz and has encouraged him to run for leadership for a long time. 

Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay, described Hintz as an "incredibly intelligent, thoughtful, decent and hilarious guy" in his nomination speech.

"I think he has the vision, the values and the ideals that we need to move us forward ultimately into the majority as Assembly Democrats," Genrich said.

Both Genrich and Hintz expressed their gratitude to Barca, 62, who first took the position in 2011 following the conservative wave that ushered in Gov. Scott Walker and a strong Republican majority in both legislative chambers. 

Barca was given a standing ovation by his colleagues on Tuesday and was honored by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in a speech last week.

In a statement, Barca congratulated Hintz and wished him well.

"We have to double down on our efforts to expose Gov. Walker’s misaligned priorities and highlight the approaches we have prepared to build an economy that works for everyone," Barca said.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, congratulated Hintz in a statement.

"His willingness to lead is commendable and I stand ready to work alongside him to advance those values shared between our caucuses," Steineke said.

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Hintz also pledged to support bipartisan policies that support that best interests of the state, along with working with the majority to amend legislation and, when necessary, attempting to stop legislation.

He vowed to lead the caucus in a way that makes Democrats' goals, message and strategy clear, and to take a "clear narrative" to voters in the next election cycle.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said in a statement she looks "forward to working with Rep. Hintz as we look to expand economic opportunities, invest in local communities and create a level playing for everyone in Wisconsin."

The Republican Party of Wisconsin put out a statement attacking Hintz for 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. He was not married at the time. 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.

"Wisconsin Democrats are in disarray once again, not only standing against family-supporting jobs but letting Gordon Hintz bring his personal war on women to the leadership of their caucus," said RPW spokesman Alec Zimmerman in a statement. "Wisconsin families can’t trust that Gordon Hintz even respects them, let alone that he’ll fight for them."

In his speech to his colleagues, Hintz addressed those incidents and said he was "an unhappy person in a bad place in my life, engaged in destructive behavior that's inconsistent with the person that I am."

Even during that time, Hintz said, he continued to do his job and did not hide from the public. He has since been re-elected three times. The last four years, he said, have been the best of his life — during which he and his wife were married, bought a house and had a daughter.

"I have worked hard to live my life since then with intent and purpose," Hintz said.

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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.