Dear Governor LePage,
Maybe it was just me, but when I heard last week that you were one of 10 governors who were invited to sit down and talk education with Brian Williams on MSNBC, I was shocked.
Not shocked that they asked you — with all the blurring of the lines between news and entertainment these days, you’re nothing if not the latter.
No sir, I was shocked that you accepted.
Now I’m sure you thought Williams, being one of the nation’s top media guys and all, indeed wanted to talk education, more education and nothing but education. Heck, when the whole shindig is taking place under the banner “Education Nation,” who wouldn’t think that’s what the folks at MSNBC had in mind?
So there you sat, like a moose in the headlights, while Williams (in that “I-know-more-than-you” voice of his) recounted the whole, sorry tale about how earlier this year you ordered the now-infamous labor mural removed from the Maine Department of Labor.
“It would lead a normal adult to ask, ‘What do you have against organized labor … or murals?’” asked Williams to the titters of the live audience.
For that split second before you answered, Governor, a thought popped into my head: What would Chris Christie do?
Gov. Christie, that garrulous, barrel-chested young Republican upstart from New Jersey who’s toying with the idea of running for president, would have knocked Williams right out of Rockefeller Center.
Think about it. Channeling Christie, you could have looked Williams square in the eye, flashed one of those I-know-what-you’re-trying-to-pull-here smiles, and replied, “Brian, I thought we were here to talk about education. But let me tell you something about my support for labor, my friend. When I get home tomorrow, I’m going to seal a deal to reopen a paper mill that will put 250 of my unemployed constituents back to work. And you want to talk about paintings on walls? C’mon, Brian! I’m too busy putting paychecks in people’s pockets to waste our valuable time today talking about paintings on walls. Capisce?”
The crowd would have gone wild. Brian would have blushed. And you would have rocketed to the top of everyone’s short list for Chris Christie’s vice president.
Instead you replied, and I quote, “I have absolutely nothing about organized labor.”
“My objection to the mural is simply where the money came from,” you continued. “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 the mural and until they pay for it, it stays hidden.”
Just an aside, Governor, but have you ever thought about writing ransom notes for a living?
Back to the show:
Williams: “So you punished the mural for the funding. You ordered the mural taken away.”
You: “Well, we have puttin’ it under safe lock and key.”
Williams: “Had nothing to do with the fact that the mural was a depiction of, say, organized labor over the years?”
You: “No. None at all. I come up from organized labor through my whole life. And so I have no problem with a hardworking person. But when you work, you work for an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. You cannot rob money to pay for something that you want to see. Otherwise, you just take it out of your pocket and pay for it.”
A little constructive feedback if I might, Governor.
First, what you said on MSNBC bears no resemblance whatsoever to what you said last spring, when you told the world the mural was “one-sided” because it honored workers and not employers. (You also called people who think otherwise “idiots.”)
I know, Adrienne Bennett, your spokeswoman, said the other day that you were concerned about the money all along and we “underreported” that angle last spring.
Meaning, as usual, it’s the media’s fault. Tell you what — next time you put your foot in it, what say we scribes dispense with the quotes and just read your mind.
Next, you might want to rethink that “robbery” accusation. While you demand that “they” put the $60,000 spent on the mural back into the unemployment fund or it’s curtains for Rosie the Riveter, the feds are demanding that you either rehang the mural in a public place as they intended or pay them back the $38,000 in administrative funds they ponied up to have it painted.
That’s not robbery, Governor. That’s a nasty custody fight. Over a piece of art.
Finally, about that “I come up from organized labor” claim.
I called Ms. Bennett on Thursday to find out the actual names of unions to which you’ve belonged. She pointed out that your wife, Ann, was a shop steward at the Scott paper mill in Winslow back when you were in management, but said she’d have to get back to me about your labor history.
Haven’t heard a peep since.
I could offer a few more suggestions — for example, when you threw back your head and guffawed at Williams’ mere mention of the word “mural,” several of your fellow governors looked ready to bolt from the stage.
But to be honest, Governor, all the helpful hints in the world aren’t going to change the real takeaway here: The national spotlight is not your friend. Nor, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, is Brian Williams.
So the next time MSNBC calls, do the smart thing — not just for your own image, but for that of the entire state of Maine.
Tell them to call Chris Christie.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: