Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said Rep. Josh Zepnick is no longer caucusing with Assembly Dems after he was accused of kissing two women without their consent at political events in 2011 and 2015.
But Hintz declined to go into details with WisPolitics.com about the Milwaukee lawmaker’s status with the caucus beyond that.
Hintz, D-Oshkosh, noted Tuesday Assembly Dem leadership called for Zepnick’s resignation after the allegations came to light, stripped him of his five committee assignments and removed a part-time legislative aide.
He also declined to say what the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee may do next fall if Zepnick seeks re-election, saying leadership has not had that discussion yet. Milwaukee attorney Marisabel Cabrera announced last week she would again seek the seat after losing to Zepnick in last year’s primary.
“Some of this ultimately has to be up to the people in his district,” Hintz said in the interview, one of several he did with the Capitol press corps. “We’ve made clear where we stand.”
Zepnick did not immediately respond to calls from WisPolitics.com seeking comment.
Assembly Dems met privately last week and had a sometimes tense discussion about Zepnick’s status with the caucus.
Zepnick has said he was drinking during the two alleged incidents and does not remember them. He has apologized and said he is now sober. No complaint has been filed over the allegations.
Hintz said going forward it would be a “case-by-case” basis on whether someone accused of sexual misconduct should resign from the Legislature. Still, he felt comfortable with the Assembly Dem leadership’s position, because there was corroboration of the allegations in the Capital Times newspaper report and an admission from Zepnick.
During discussions of leadership’s response to the allegations, some have raised Hintz’s citation in a massage parlor sting more than six years ago to question what standard should be in place for whether members are called on to resign.
Hintz drew a distinction because the allegations against Zepnick’s included subordinates.
“If we were having a litmus test on moral failures, I don’t know there’d be anybody serving in the Legislature,” he said.
In the interview, Hintz also said he wants his Assembly Dem colleagues to understand success at the polls in 2018 is not simply a matter of riding a possible snapback against Republicans with Donald Trump in the White House.
“I’m trying to raise expectations for what it’s going to take,” Hintz said. “There is no automatic pendulum. You need to push it. You need to work hard in the building and out, and it takes all 35 of you moving in the same direction to be as effective as you want to be.”
Hintz took over the caucus in October after Dems pushed out Rep. Peter Barca, of Kenosha, from the position. Hintz said since then he’s tried to build up a caucus that he said felt it wasn’t in position to be successful next fall.
Those improvements include trying to sharpen members’ arguments during floor debates to be more succinct. Hintz noted the Assembly was scheduled to be in for up to 11 hours on its final floor day of 2017, but adjourned after being in for about half that time.
He said part of that is getting members to think may be better ways to communicate their message on a bill such as Facebook or social media rather than a floor speech.
“Sometimes it is cathartic getting up on the floor and letting them have it. But that might not be the most effective way to message on a bill,” Hintz said.
Looking to next fall, Hintz said seats in places such as southwestern Wisconsin are obvious targets. But he’s also looking at other opportunities, citing, for example, suburbs that he said are rejecting the “Trump-Walker agenda.” He said legislative races can become nationalized. But Assembly races are still affected by retail campaigning.
He also said the $3 billion state incentive package for Foxconn will be part of Dems’ message ahead of next year’s elections, adding it reflects the Walker administration’s priorities.
He also said taxpayers are seeing the money to land the company adding up and pulling resources away from their communities, pointing to new road work being added in the area around the planned factory.
“It is a vehicle to discuss that communities throughout the state come second to a billionaire from Foxconn,” he said.