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A state lawmaker from Oshkosh has been elected to lead the state’s Assembly Democrats.

Rep. Gordon Hintz was elected Tuesday by his colleagues to replace Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, who announced earlier this month he was stepping down as Assembly minority leader after many of his members tried to remove him.

Hintz, a member of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee who also had been considering a run for governor, urged his colleagues on Tuesday to stop focusing on divisions within the party and present a united front against Republican-backed policies and Gov. Scott Walker.

“It’s hard to feel part of the team if you feel that some of your colleagues are out to undermine you in the next primary election under the auspices of some purity test,” he said to Democrats in a hearing room at the Capitol. “It is up to everyone in this room to determine our future. No one is going to hand us anything, and the pendulum of change sometimes needs a push.”

The Assembly Democratic caucus has diminished to levels not seen in 60 years. Hintz said uniting against Republicans was the only path back to the majority.

“The fog in the minority runs thick. I promise to do my best to steer our caucus in a way that makes clear what our goals are for each day and what the intent behind our message and our strategy is,” he said.

Hintz, 43, has been in the state Assembly since 2006 and is a vocal critic of Walker and the Republican Legislature’s approach to road funding, 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.

State Republicans have criticized Hintz for a 2011 citation he received during a sting at an Appleton massage parlor while he was unmarried, and also for telling then-Rep. Michelle Litjens, R-Winneconne, “you’re (expletive) dead” during a contentious debate over Walker’s collective bargaining measure that same year known as Act 10.

Hintz acknowledged the incidents on Tuesday and said he has tried to live with intent and purpose since his “past mistakes.”

“Personally, I can say I was an unhappy person in a bad place in my life,” Hintz said after being elected Assembly minority leader. “I have apologized and taken responsibility for my past actions. Even during this time I never stopped doing my job. ... I can’t change the mistakes of my past, but I can learn from them going forward.”

In a statement, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin said that by electing Hintz as minority leader, Assembly Democrats allowed him to “bring his personal war on women to the leadership of their caucus.”

“Wisconsin families can’t trust that Gordon Hintz even respects them, let alone that he’ll fight for them,” said Alec Zimmerman.

But Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, who has called on the state Republican Party to stop criticizing Hintz for the incidents, congratulated the new minority leader.

“I want to offer my congratulations to Rep. Hintz as he assumes his role as the leader of the Assembly Democrat caucus,” he said 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.”

State and national Republicans — including Walker — also have criticized the Assembly Democrats for ousting Barca after 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.

While some Assembly Democrats criticized their colleagues who pushed to remove Barca, none spoke against Hintz on Tuesday.

Hintz and Rep. Eric Genrich of Green Bay, who nominated Hintz, thanked Barca for his service. Hintz said Barca “held this caucus together” over the last seven years.

In a statement, Barca congratulated Hintz after the election.

“Knowing the hard work and commitment it takes, I wish him well in the months ahead and will offer my assistance when needed,” Barca said. “We have a great deal of work to do in the months and years ahead.”

Hintz steps into his new role on Oct. 1.


Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.