Weeks ago, we speculated on the possibility of Wisconsin Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) being ousted by an inner-caucus coup; particularly over his support of the Foxconn deal. That appears to have indeed happened on Thursday night.
After an Assembly Democratic caucus meeting that lasted nearly four hours, Barca’s office released a statement saying that effective as of September 30, he would be stepping down as minority leader.
Peter Barca will resign as Assembly minority leader at the end of this month, clearing the way for his caucus to elect a replacement for the Kenosha Dem after six years at the head of the caucus.
Some Dem members openly considered challenging Barca following the November elections, when the caucus lost a seat and sunk to its smallest minority since the 1950s. Though he hung onto power last fall, he angered some members when he supported a $3 billion incentive package for Foxconn, which is planning a plant in or near his southeastern Wisconsin district.
“This afternoon I made the very difficult decision to step down as leader of the Assembly Democrats following deliberate, thoughtful discussions. I am grateful to my colleagues for their support over the last seven years,” Barca, D-Kenosha, said in a statement.
Who could take over for Barca remains to be seen.
While questions swirl surrounding the “Why” of Barca’s resignation, all signs point to the Foxconn deal. When before the state Assembly in August, Barca was one of three Racine and Kenosha area Democrats to vote for the nearly $3 billion economic incentive package because the local benefits to their constituents. Shortly after the vote, emails obtained by the Associated Press surfaced which showed just how angry some members of his caucus were with his position on the deal.
Emails obtained by The Associated Press show that Democratic state Rep. Lisa Subeck of Madison spelled out her grievances to Barca on Friday, the day after the Assembly passed the incentive package backed by Republicans designed to attract Foxconn to build a massive display panel factory in the state.
Barca was one of three Democrats to vote for the measure Thursday, with 28 Democrats against. Barca, of Kenosha, and the other Democrats who voted for it represent southeast Wisconsin, near where Foxconn plans to build a factory that could employ thousands. Reps. Cory Mason of Racine and Tod Ohnstad of Kenosha joined Barca and 56 Republicans in voting for the bill; two Republicans joined all other Democrats in opposition.
Most Democrats were outspoken in their opposition to the measure, branding it as a corporate welfare giveaway that also puts Wisconsin’s environment in jeopardy because of requirements that would be waived to speed construction of the plant that could open as soon as 2020.
Barca tried to walk a line, criticizing the process of quickly acting on the bill and saying that more improvements could be made to protect taxpayers, Wisconsin businesses and the environment. But ultimately he said he supported the incentive package because of the backing it has from people in his district.
Subeck, in an email sent to all Assembly Democrats obtained by the AP, accused Barca of failing “on all accounts” to differentiate his views on Foxconn with that of the rest of Democrats who voted against the measure. She was particularly upset with Barca for holding an impromptu news conference in the Assembly parlor, right around the corner from his office, shortly after the evening vote Thursday.
“I am also concerned that the message you conveyed,” Subeck wrote. “It seems you were trying to justify your own vote rather than share the caucus perspective consistent with our agreed upon message.”
She said that Barca’s public comments “have not been consistent with the majority position of the caucus and have served counter to our interest.”
Regardless of what was the cause, the word “coup” was already being tossed around by Barca loyalists inside the Assembly Democratic caucus.
Rep. Chris Sinicki, a Barca ally, on his stepping down as ldr: "We have a group of fairly young legislators who pretty much led this coup."
— Shawn Johnson (@SJohnsonWPR) September 7, 2017
Also quick to respond to Barca’s ouster was the Republican Party of Wisconsin, which issued a statement wasting little time connecting the news to the Foxconn deal.
“Peter Barca took a reasonable vote in favor of good-paying Wisconsin jobs, and his extreme Democrat caucus ousted him for it. Until Wisconsin Democrats offer real ideas and a message that will connect with the lives of hard-working Wisconsin families, they’ll remain in a dangerous race to the left – Wisconsin Democrats are in complete state of disarray and it’s only getting worse.”
Who takes over now for Assembly Democrats is anyone’s guess.