This will be a very difficult column to write because I am trying to give up making fun of the governor for Lent.

So I’ll just let the governor speak for himself.

When asked how he would respond to protesters trying to block his removal of a mural honoring the labor movement in Maine from the Maine Department of Labor, Gov. LePage told reporters:

“I’d laugh at them, the idiots. That’s what I would do. Come on! Get over yourselves!”

I’ll leave it to the readers to decide if they see any comparison between the governor’s demeanor and that of James Cagney at the end of “White Heat,” right before he blows up the oil tank he’s standing on (“Made it, Ma! Top of the world!”).

And if people wonder how the governor of a financially strapped state came up with the money to pay workers to come in over a weekend to spirit the mural away to a secret storage area, they are free to do so. If they think that sounds like the Politburo’s midnight removal of Stalin’s body from Lenin’s Tomb, it is entirely up to them.

(We don’t know what he did with the mural, but Tuesday’s Groupon deal may offer a clue: It promised “58% off panoramic wall mural.” Also, keep an eye out for that Rosie the Riveter panel at your local Marden’s.)

It’s actually very easy to write about the Department of Labor mural without criticizing the governor, because even though his behavior was high-handed, paranoid and insensitive, he’s not the only one who has overreacted here – although no one else is really in his league.

But if you are not going to criticize the governor, there are others who you could not criticize as well.

For starters, there would be state Rep. Ben Chipman, the Portland independent who looked at the furor in the State House over LePage’s decision to get rid of the mural and decided to broker a deal to send it to Portland City Hall.

Some would remind Chipman of the old political axiom that teaches: When your opponent is making a fool of himself, don’t interrupt.

Others might point out that his deal cements the opinion that Portland is hopelessly out of touch with the rest of Maine and can safely be ignored by policymakers from the state’s 496 other communities.

Or that Portland’s representatives in Augusta should be fighting to retain state support for social service programs like General Assistance and medical coverage for legal immigrants, which the governor wants to shift to local taxpayers.

But I’m not going there. I’ll just say that Chipman’s leadership on this issue has been no more destructive to the city’s reputation than the other cause to which he has attached his name – the legalization of marijuana.

And he did not act alone. On Friday, we reported that Chipman had consulted with City Councilor David Marshall, who is an artist as well as a politician, and Marshall suggested a long second-floor hallway in City Hall as a good site for the labor mural.

On Monday, Marshall counted himself among those who opposed bringing the mural to Portland, calling the deal a “Trojan horse” that would make it easier for LePage to carry out his agenda.

The other thing Marshall did Monday was announce his candidacy for mayor.

How his quick position shift on the Department of Labor mural will play out remains to be seen, but in the spirit of the season, let’s look at it in the best possible light. He has already shown himself to be remarkably flexible, and any voter who puts nimbleness as his top priority has found his candidate.

There are so many others who have overreacted here they are too numerous to name. We have received more letters to the editor about the mural, which affects only two-dimensional images of workers, than we have about right-to-work legislation, which would hurt real-live union members and their families.

And the over-the-top award should go to the editorial writer at The New York Times, who compared the governor’s removal of the painting to “the pharaohs’ chiseling historic truth from Egyptian monuments.”

But none of this should detract from our governor, who remains in the center of the spotlight, just where he likes to be.

His calculated move to fire up his loyal base worked better than he probably ever expected, and protests by union members and art lovers do nothing but help him with his intended audience.

He took a painting that few Mainers had ever even seen before last week and turned it into the most famous mural in America today. How many of us could have done that?

We’ll see whether that ability to grab attention turns into any policy victories in Augusta.

Republican lawmakers have to be wondering whether there is enough cover to go around from the governor’s base if backing his agenda leads to a government shutdown, or if they should reject his leadership and work with Democrats to pass a budget over his head.

If that’s what they do, the governor will be able to focus even more of his attention to moving artwork around the State House, because that would be about all the influence he’d have left.

 

Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at: [email protected]