By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker said Thursday he was frustrated that a registered sex offender and felon was allowed to stand alongside him during his State of the State speech.
Christopher Barber, a 32-year-old welder, was one of 13 newly hired workers Walker brought out to stand behind him during the opening minutes of his Wednesday speech as examples of how an improved economy is leading to more people finding work.
Barber wore his welding helmet and work gloves on stage. He waved to the audience in the Assembly chamber as he left the podium and Walker turned around and applauded.
“Every time we help someone find a job, it makes for a strong home, a stronger community, and a stronger state,” Walker said during his speech as Barber and the others stood behind him.
Walker didn’t know that Barber, of Two Rivers, is a registered sex offender with two felonies and three drunken-driving offenses. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported on his criminal record Thursday.
Online court records show that Barber was convicted of third-degree sexual assault in 2005 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating,” Walker said when asked about the situation after a speech to the Wisconsin Grocers Association.
Walker said he had assumed that the man’s employer, Ariens Co. in Brillion, had done a background check when it actually had not. Ariens spokeswoman Ann Stilp issued a statement saying the company recommended Barber for the speech as an example of an employee who had been unemployed before coming to Ariens.
“We recommended him because he demonstrated initiative in turning seasonal employment into full-time employment and used training to advance to a welder position within the company,” Stilp said. “We did this based on his job performance as an employee since December of 2012. As part of recommending him for the speech, we did not know the details of his record.”
Stilp said Ariens is now reviewing its hiring process.
A phone number for Barber could not immediately be found.
“Out of all the people who were out there, all of them had background checks,” Walker said. “This particular individual was one of the last people added. He came from a credible employer in the state who gave us the suggestion at the last minute.”
Walker emphasized that those asked to join him during the speech were workers recommended by their employers.
“There were thousands of other examples we could have used and that would have been preferred,” he said of Barber.