MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes on Thursday defended his portrayal of his college record, blaming a campaign staffer for a questionnaire that falsely said he had graduated from Alabama A&M and denying that he himself had ever made the claim.
The issue erupted after the Isthmus newspaper published an interview in which Barnes volunteered that he did not graduate A&M because he hadn’t finished a course. He told the newspaper he had finished the coursework but never turned it in, and called it “a small technical thing.”
The questionnaire that Barnes’ campaign returned to the Wisconsin State Journal last year said Barnes had a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Alabama A&M University.
Barnes, a Democrat, also told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel twice during a November interview that he had “finished” college in 2008, leading the newspaper to write that he had graduated. The story was one of many media reports to describe Barnes as an A&M graduate.
Barnes spokesman Earl Arms said in an email that a now-former campaign staffer filled out the questionnaire for the State Journal and mistakenly said he had graduated. Arms didn’t name the staffer in the email.
“The lieutenant governor regrets this oversight and is working to address any misconceptions that have come from it,” Arms said. He said Barnes “has always been transparent when asked about his graduation status.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Barnes had ever sought to correct the erroneous reports. Arms didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up email.
Barnes’ biography on Gov. Tony Evers’ website describes him as an A&M alumnus, a term that can apply to students who attended a school or graduated.
A&M spokesman Jerome Saintjones confirmed Thursday that Barnes attended the university from the fall of 2003 through the spring of 2008 but didn’t graduate. He said Barnes is working with the university “to resolve the matter which resulted in the incomplete grade.”
Barnes was in trouble with the city of Milwaukee earlier this year for failing to pay $2,225 in property taxes on his condominium. He also allowed a $108 fine for parking tickets go unpaid for more than a year.
Barnes also came under scrutiny this year for seeking extensive protection from the Wisconsin State Patrol. The patrol’s records showed that as of May he had recorded nine times more hours of security protection during his first two months in office than his GOP predecessor, Rebecca Kleefisch, had in all of 2018. Republicans accused him of misusing taxpayer money.
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