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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker applauds as Chris Barber of Two Rivers, a welder at Ariens Company, leaves the podium during Walker's State of the State address at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. M.P. KING -- State Journal

Parading ordinary people in front of a crowd for political purposes is not a new tactic, but after last week’s State of the State address, maybe we’ll see a chill on that practice.

Touting his record as a job creator, Gov. Scott Walker trotted out a dozen state workers who had left the ranks of the unemployed under his watch. One of them, Chris Barber, turned out to be a sex offender and convicted felon, who smiled and waved to the crowd from the dais as the governor applauded.

Oops. PR blunder.

“They (Ariens Co., the snowblower and riding manufacturer which employs Barber) did not do a full-scale background check, which is why (he) slipped through,” the governor said. “Obviously, we would never have had this person up if that was the case.”

Walker’s intent to showcase his job creation efforts by trotting out real-life success stories was immediately obscured by the gaffe — which, of course, gained national attention.

Which is too bad. Not only did it overshadow Walker’s message, it also promoted the malicious sneer factor that too often comes when people talk about felons — especially sex offenders — and hiring them for jobs.

It’s reflected, too, in the residency restrictions for sex offenders which often result in communitywide bans. Just this month, the Village of Mount Pleasant added itself to the list of Racine County communities to adopt such restrictions. All of which make it harder for convicted felons and sex offenders to find jobs and rejoin the community after they have served their sentences.

Chris Barber has had frequent brushes with the law. But his felony conviction for forgery was 15 years ago. And his third degree sexual assault conviction was nine years ago. He has had some criminal traffic offenses in recent yeas and a misdemeanor battery conviction five years ago.

But he has had no run-ins in the past three years, according to news reports. He found a seasonal job at the Brillion manufacturing firm a year ago and turned that into a full-time job.

Ariens recommended Barber for the spot on the State of the State dais based on his performance for the company in the past year and his success in getting a full-time job, although company officials conceded they did not know the details of his record.

To their credit, Ariens stood by him after the speech flap. “Ariens Co. continues to support Chris as an employee,” company spokesman Ann Stilp said Friday.

We don’t know if Chris Barber has “turned his life around,” but getting a full-time job and gaining the respect of his employer is certainly a good start.

He may not be the poster boy the governor was seeking, but if he continues his recent work efforts, he could turn out to be a good example just the same.


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