Political Correction

Maine Gov. LePage Rewrites History Of Labor Mural Dispute

September 28, 2011 11:58 am ET - by Alan Pyke

It's one thing to put a thumb in union eyes by forcing your Department of Labor to take down a mural depicting the history of the struggle for labor rights in your state. It's another for Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) to blatantly lie about the episode on national TV six months later.

Here's how LePage's spokesman Dan Demeritt explained the decision to remove the mural back in March:

According to LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt, the administration felt the mural and the conference room monikers showed "one-sided decor" not in keeping with the department's pro-business goals.

"The message from state agencies needs to be balanced," said Demeritt, adding that the mural had sparked complaints from "some business owners" who complained it was hostile to business.

Another LePage flak told the New York Times that the decision was spurred by "an anonymous fax saying [the mural] was reminiscent of 'communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses.'" She added that "we need to have a décor that represents neutrality." 

Furthermore, LePage himself explained on radio at the time that "The mural sends a message that we're one-sided, and I don't want to send that message." In case the attitude of the LePage administration in March isn't clear from those snippets, remember that they also ordered the department to rename seven conference rooms in their office space that had been named for labor icons such as Cesar Chavez and Frances Perkins.

Flash forward six months to Monday night, when NBC's Brian Williams explained that background and added that "it would lead a normal adult to ask, what do you have against organized labor?"

LEPAGE: I have absolutely nothing about organized labor. My objection to the mural is simply where the money came from. The money was taken out of the unemployment insurance fund, which is dedicated to provide benefits to unemployed workers. They robbed that account to build a mural, and until they pay for it, it stays hidden. [...] We are putting it under safe lock and key.

Watch: 

LePage's new line accusing the department of 'robbing' the jobless to pay for a painting is smarter politically than his clearly stated original reasoning, but state officials say that "nobody lost any benefits to which they were entitled," according to the Portland Press Herald. Furthermore, the federal Department of Labor actually demanded that Maine return the money used to buy the mural if it is not going to be displayed any longer.

LePage's own press statements on the issue — which were the governor's opportunity to say exactly what he meant without the media cropping his thoughts — did not mention the funding concerns, and in fact reinforce the clearly political nature of the decision. The Press Herald also points out that LePage's new rationale doesn't square with the case his attorneys are making in fighting lawsuits over the mural. Those attorneys "have said the governor's actions are protected because they represented his political views," according to the paper.

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