Barca has served as a state representative on two separate occasions, 1985–1993 and 2009–present. He also served as a member of the U.S. Congress between 1993 and 1995, and the Midwest Regional Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
After a landslide victory in his re-election campaign in 2010, Barca was elected by his colleagues to serve as Assembly Democratic Leader in the 100th Wisconsin Legislative Session.
Barca has announced that he will step down as Assembly Minority Leader on September 30th, 2017 to maintain his focus on his district.
Barca was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 7, 1955, and spent his entire youth in the Kenosha area. He graduated from Mary D. Bradford High School in 1973 and earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. He attended Harvard Graduate School and went on to earn an M.A. in public administration and educational administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1983.
Starting his career as a teacher of the emotionally disturbed and a team leader for students with special needs, Barca went on to become the Director of the Friendship Camp, a camp for children with disabilities. He also served as an employment specialist.
Barca entered politics in 1985 when he won his first election to the State Assembly, succeeding Joseph Wimmer in the 64th District. The 64th District includes much of the City of Kenosha and portions of the City of Racine, Town of Somers, Village of Mount Pleasant and Village of Elmwood Park.
During his initial tenure in the State Capitol, Barca authored and passed a wide variety of proposals covering issues such as economic development, protection for seniors and the disabled, education, employment and job training, criminal justice, and environmental protection. He also worked closely with the Kenosha delegation to help pass legislation that led to the creation of the Lakeview Corporate Park.
Barca also chaired several special legislative committees that led to Wisconsin’s nationally recognized welfare reform program, implemented the award-winning ‘one stop shop’ employment and training systems, and developed the roadmap for rail services between Kenosha and Milwaukee.
In 1991 and 1993, Barca was elected Majority Caucus Chairperson in the State Assembly.
Barca resigned his seat in 1993 after being elected to U.S. House of Representatives.
In early 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed 22-year incumbent 1st District congressman Les Aspin to the post of Secretary of Defense, and a special election was called for the balance of Aspin's 12th term. Barca faced Republican challenger Mark Neumann, who had been Aspin's opponent in November 1992, but won by only 675 votes, mainly due to a weak showing in Racine. Neumann, in turn, defeated Barca in the regular 1994 elections.
After he narrowly lost his re-election bid, President Clinton appointed Barca to serve as Midwest Regional Administrator to the U.S. Small Business Administration. He also served as National Ombudsman to the SBA. Barca was also leader of the National Regulatory Fairness Program, an initiative which included more than fifty company presidents throughout the country aimed at making regulatory enforcement small business friendly. He later went on to become Vice President and then President of Aurora Associates International, an international project management company.
In November 2008, after a 14-year absence, Barca was elected to represent the 64th District once again. He was again chosen to be Majority Caucus Chairperson, and served as co-chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, and chair of the Partnership for a Stronger Economy.
As chair of the Partnership for a Stronger Economy, Barca traveled the state meeting with various small businesses owners and economic development professionals to craft an economic plan for Wisconsin. The Partnership led the way in helping to pass over 50 economic initiatives in the 2009–10 legislative session, including the Small Business Capital Access Program and the Entrepreneurial Assistance Grant Program, both authored by Barca.
In the 2011 legislative session Barca rose to national prominence as a leader in the struggle against Governor Scott Walker's proposed changes to collective bargaining in Wisconsin. Barca also led Assembly Democrats in protesting the Republicans' alleged violation of open meetings laws.
Barca authored legislation to ban text messaging while driving in Wisconsin.