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Barca to step down as Wisconsin Assembly Democratic leader

Peter Barca

MADISON (AP) -- Wisconsin Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, who broke with the majority of his party in supporting a $3 billion tax incentive package for Foxconn Technology Group and has been in charge while Democratic seats dropped to their lowest levels in 60 years, announced Thursday he is leaving his leadership post at the end of the month.

Barca, of Kenosha, announced the move in a press release and he did not return a message left on his cellphone seeking comment.

Democratic Rep. Christine Sinicki, of Milwaukee, told Wisconsin Public Radio that Barca was forced out in a "coup" led by younger lawmakers unhappy with his leadership.

"This is a group of inexperienced legislators who really have not spent a whole lot of time legislating yet, and they were looking for any excuse to change our leadership," Sinicki told WPR. "I do think the Foxconn bill kind of gave this group more ammunition that they thought they could use against him."

His announced departure came the day after the Republican-controlled budget committee passed a state budget that the Assembly is to debate on Wednesday. The Assembly is also scheduled next Thursday to vote for a second time on the bill giving tax breaks to Foxconn, which may build near Barca's district.

Barca, 62, decided to step down after a closed-door meeting with Democrats, who hold just 35 of the 99 seats in the Assembly, their lowest level since 1957. Barca has been leader since 2011, when Republicans took control of the Assembly from Democrats and Walker began his first term. Barca was challenged for his position in 2014 by Rep. Evan Goyke, of Milwaukee, but prevailed.

No successor to Barca has been announced.

Goyke declined to comment on the discussion that led to Barca's departure Thursday, but said he is not interested in serving as leader.

In his statement, Barca called resigning his post a difficult decision reached after "deliberate, thoughtful discussions." He will remain in office and like every other member of the Assembly, he is up for re-election next year.

"Assembly Democrats have always fought to do what is right for Wisconsin families and workers," Barca said in the statement. "I will continue this effort but will be able to put much more focus on my district, which will have more challenges than ever in the months ahead."

Barca joined with two other southeastern Wisconsin Democrats in voting for the Foxconn bill, a move that drew fire from fellow Democratic Rep. Lisa Subeck, of Madison. In an email with Barca after his vote last month, Subeck said Barca was failing "on all accounts" to differentiate his views from other Democrats on Foxconn. She also said she was "incredibly frustrated and concerned" after his vote for the Foxconn bill.

Foxconn, based in Taiwan, plans to build a flat-screen manufacturing plant not far from Kenosha that could employ up to 13,000 people. Walker negotiated the deal, which has drawn harsh criticism from Democrats who say the state is giving away too much in the deal.

Wisconsin Republican Party executive director Mark Morgan said in a statement that Barca "took a reasonable vote in favor of good-paying Wisconsin jobs, and his extreme Democrat caucus ousted him for it." Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard, of Racine, praised Barca as a "rare breed" who "understands how to agree to disagree."

"It is unfortunate, yet ultimately predictable, that Assembly Democrats are seeking a new leader because he exercised those principles by voting for the Foxconn legislation," Wanggaard said.

Barca first served in the state Assembly from 1985 to 1993 before serving one term in Congress from 1993 to 1995. He was re-elected to the Assembly in 2008.

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