In Context: Attacks on new Wisconsin Assembly Democratic leader

Democrats in the Wisconsin Assembly elected their colleague, Rep. Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh, as their leader. (Michael P. King/Associated Press)
Democrats in the Wisconsin Assembly elected their colleague, Rep. Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh, as their leader. (Michael P. King/Associated Press)
Michelle Litjens, then a Republican state representative from Oshkosh, was apparently the target of a threat made by Hintz.
Michelle Litjens, then a Republican state representative from Oshkosh, was apparently the target of a threat made by Hintz.

Moments after Democrats in the Wisconsin Assembly elected Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh as their new leader, the state Republican Party hit him with a double-barreled attack.

In a Sept. 19, 2017 news release, the party referred to a "war on women" and cited two incidents.

Both incidents had been mentioned briefly in news stories in the days before Hintz, 43, who was elected to the Assembly in 2006, was chosen to succeed Peter Barca of Kenosha. Barca decided to step down after more than six years in the minority leader post.

We thought this would be a good time for In Context, our periodic feature that fleshes out statements that get widespread attention. It’s an opportunity to provide more details on the two incidents, both of which occurred more than six years ago, that you might have heard only little about.

Ticket at massage parlor

Police in Appleton ticketed Hintz on Feb. 10, 2011 for sexual misconduct at Heavenly Touch Massage Parlor in Appleton. Police had been investigating the business because it was suspected of prostitution.

In a statement issued 11 days later, Hintz said he would take responsibility for his actions: "My concern right now is that my personal situation is distracting from the much more important issue facing our state. We have tens of thousands of working people at the Capitol every day, and that must remain our focus."

Hintz pleaded no contest to sexual misconduct and paid a fine of $2,032, according to a news report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He said he made "a bad decision" that "was out of character" and apologized for disappointing his family, friends and community.

Threat to lawmaker

The second incident occurred two weeks later, after 61 hours of debate over Act 10 -- the law championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker that severely curtailed collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin and caused weeks of massive protests in Madison.

More Than They Bargained For, a book by two Journal Sentinel state Capitol reporters, said that as Assembly Democrats demanded to be heard and protesters just outside the chamber chanted "Kill the bill," Hintz shouted "You're f------ dead!" to fellow Assembly member Michelle Litjens, an Oshkosh Republican. Litjens took the threat to be physical rather than political and Hintz later apologized, the book says.

Litjens said at the time, according to a news report in the Journal Sentinel:

"He was walking back. I sit in the back row, and he turned and pointed to me and said, 'You are (expletive) dead.'" Litjens said she said nothing but admitted she felt intimidated. "It was not a comfortable situation," she said. Hintz, who had said his actions were an "outburst," called Litjens to apologize, the news story said. "I've known him for years," she said. "Everyone was exhausted that day, but there's no excuse for what he did."

Litjens also was quoted at the time, however, as saying she didn't believe the comment was meant for her directly, but rather all Republican lawmakers for moving forward with the bill.

Hintz said at the time: "I believe my response was shock. The only way they were going to pass this bill was by ignoring and shredding rules of the Assembly. I apologized when I learned my comments may have been taken personally by someone."

Statements on both incidents

As he was running for reelection in 2014, Hintz told the Capital Times about the two incidents:

"I've got to live with it. I'm in a better place in my personal life now, which makes a lot of things easier. I never stopped doing my job. I never hid from the public. I hold office hours, I go door-to-door. I’ve done my best to live my life with purpose, intent, mindfulness and accountability. And that’s all any of us can do."

And on the day he was elected to the minority post, he apologized again for the incidents, saying: "While I can’t change the mistakes of my past, I can learn from them going forward."