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OPINION: Difficult call for Barca on Foxconn deal

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09/14/2017 | 11:17 am

Sept. 14--Former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, in a letter to the editor in the Capital Times, said "No one in Wisconsin Democratic politics has demonstrated more guts and courage than Peter Barca."

"I salute Peter for his lifelong willingness to make the hard and sometimes conflicting choices that public life often requires," Obey wrote. "If Congress and the Legislature had more leaders like Peter Barca, politics would not be in the state of disrepair we see today."

Though he'll remain in the state Legislature, Barca, D-Kenosha, is stepping down as Assembly Minority Leader on Sept. 30 after more than six years in the post. Though several reasons for the move have been put forth, it's hard to believe his vote on the Foxconn incentive package didn't play a role.

Barca, who has served in Congress, was one of only a few Democrats to vote for a $3 billion incentive package for Foxconn's proposed flat-screen plant; sites in both Kenosha and Racine counties have been considered for the project. The state Senate passed the measure Tuesday. It returns to the Assembly for a second vote today before advancing to Gov. Scott Walker.

"Peter is a rare breed in Madison, a politician who can disagree and advocate for his position without being disagreeable," said a statement from Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine. "He understands how to agree to disagree. It is unfortunate ... that Assembly Democrats are seeking a new leader because he exercised those principles by voting for the Foxconn legislation."

----In the you-can't-make-this-stuff-up department, Gordon Hintz has announced he'll run for Barca's seat to lead Democrats in the Assembly. Hintz is an air guitar virtuoso and state legislator from Oshkosh. He appeared as his alter ego, Krye Tuff, in the 2006 documentary "Air Guitar Nation" and once took second in a national air-guitar contest.

Nothing against Hintz, a passionate legislator who may very well excel at leading Assembly Democrats, but it's important to note that state legislators primarily represent their constituents, not a party or even a state. Barca likely felt he was doing just that.

"When my father immigrated to the United States and settled our family in Kenosha, it was a factory job that gave him the chance to eventually buy his own business and achieve the American dream," Barca said in a statement. "But as time passed, manufacturing left my hometown and communities all across Wisconsin. If we can create new good-paying, family-supporting jobs in a high-tech industry, it could give future generations the same opportunities my family had.

"At the end of the day, all politics is local. As I traveled my district over the last few weeks, I spoke with countless constituents and heard from nearly every major local leader in Kenosha and Racine that they supported this plan. That's why I voted yes."

There remain legitimate concerns about the Foxconn deal. Will it follow through on its plans? Will the environment be protected? Will Wisconsinites, as opposed to Illinoisans, make up a bulk of the workers? Will automation limit the project's number of jobs?

But there are a bevy of potential positives should the project advance. Foxconn has proposed a $10 billion investment in southeastern Wisconsin that could eventually yield more than 10,000 jobs.

State Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, a candidate for governor, has been outspoken in his opposition to the deal. We'll never know whether that position would have changed if the company were bringing the project to the Chippewa Valley, but we can assume the decision wouldn't have been an easy one.


(c)2017 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)

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