MADISON, Wis. — Facing a tight reelection battle in a state still scarred from his 2012 recall, Gov. Scott Walker is peering at new pockets of potential supporters, hoping to draw them out of the woodwork and boost his chances at the polls. Walker used his recent State of the State speech to woo one especially coveted constituency: registered sex offenders.
A beaming Walker briefly shared the stage with Christopher Barber, a 32-year-old welder, registered sex offender, and felon, applauding Barber as example of putting Wisconsinites back to work.
Barber, clad in a welding helmet and gloves, strode across the Assembly chamber’s stage as Walker offered a rousing hand and said, “Every time we help someone find a job, it makes for a strong home, a stronger community, and a stronger state.”
“We need more people like Barber in this state,” continued Walker, “independent go-getters who are unwilling to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Barber was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a 2005 conviction of third-degree sexual assault, according to online court records first exposed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“Barber helps put the ‘sin’ back in Wisconsin,” Walker enthusiastically told supporters, testing out his new campaign slogan.
Yet only a day after his speech, the governor was forced to walk back some of his praise after learning that Barber was a unionized laborer.
Walker became a lightning rod for pro-union activists after pushing through the 2011 Budget Repair Bill that stripped many public-sector workers of their collective bargaining rights.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating,” said Walker when asked about the lack of vetting that allowed Barber on the stage. “There were thousands of other examples we could have used that would have been preferred,” Walker told the press, “including sex offenders that don’t have a sordid history of involvement with unions.”
Records indicate that there are 12,401 registered sex offenders in Wisconsin. It remains unclear whether non-unionized sex offenders can form a large enough voting bloc to secure Walker’s victory in November.
His likely Democratic opponent in the race, Mary Burke, was fully expecting Walker to “fight dirty.” In her first fundraising letter, she called Walker a “Tea Party hero” who treats women like second-class citizens. “But I never expected he’d hold up a sex offender as an example of his vision for Wisconsin.”