Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Dear Governor LePage,
I'd call you "Paul," but seeing as we still haven't met yet and seeing as you are Maine's chief executive, calling you "Governor" somehow feels more appropriate.
In fact, that title is exactly what's prompting me to drop you this note.
Now I know some Mainers may like it and some Mainers may hate it, but the fact is you -- and you alone -- are the king of Maine's political hill for the next four years. And that, as any of our past governors will tell you, means a lot of things.
It means people now look to you for leadership.
It means your words, for better or worse, carry more weight than just about anyone from Kittery to Fort Kent.
More specifically, it means when you tell someone to kiss your derriere, they quite justifiably feel like the state of Maine just put its foot up theirs.
Truth be told, Governor, I didn't believe it when the grapevine started buzzing late Friday morning with reports that you'd just told the Maine chapter of the NAACP, almost on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to "kiss my butt."
I figured you'd learned your lesson back on the campaign trail last fall, when your promise to tell President Obama to "go to hell" went viral and left much of the state feeling like its wacky uncle just ran out into the street with a lampshade on his head and a bullhorn in his hand.
I even took heart soon after that when you not only apologized for your "go to hell" faux pas, but actually managed to get through meeting Obama at the White House without getting carted off by the president's Secret Service detail. ("Progress!" I thought at the time. "He's getting in touch with his inner statesman!")
And now this.
One day after the NAACP expressed its profound disappointment that you, unlike your predecessors, wouldn't be attending MLK Day commemorations in Portland or Orono, there you were once again Friday, blundering your way back onto the 24/7 news cycle by telling the "special interest" to "kiss my butt."
Offensive? You bet it is -- and not just for people whose skin happens to be darker than yours.
Embarrassing? If Forbes Magazine were to feed the name of each state into a laugh meter, I guarantee "Maine" would blow the circuitry.
Inappropriate? Let's just say the mental image of anyone kissing your butt is enough to put this entire state into a post-traumatic-stress therapy group.
I know, I know, you and your supporters now claim you were responding to a question from one of those pesky reporters about whether your decision to forgo the MLK events represents "a pattern" of refusal on your part.
We're also told you had prior commitments, including a funeral for a state trooper, that prevent you from breaking bread with the NAACP.
And yes, we all know that your son Devon Raymond, a Jamaican lad you adopted in 2002 at the age of 17, is black and thus you can't possibly be a racist -- which, for the record, nobody said you were.
But you know what, Governor? None of that matters now.
For better or worse, we live in the age of the sound bite -- into which the phrase "kiss my butt" fits like a surgical glove. (Apologies for the mixed metaphor.)
However unfair it may be, a guy in your position should know every word coming out of your mouth -- not to mention every weird giggle -- counts. And when there's a camera rolling, well, last fall should have taught you how easy it is to compress a 300-word tirade down to a three-word boomerang.
I spoke with Dan Demeritt, your underpaid communications director, shortly after your latest video hit the Internet on Friday. No, Demeritt said, you had no plans to apologize to anyone.
Rather, it appears the strategy this time is to sanitize.
In a hastily prepared press release, Demeritt reduced the butt-kissing invitation to "the Governor dismissing the assertions being made by the NAACP." He also alluded to you speaking "in the direct manner people have come to expect from Paul LePage."
Expect? Unfortunately, Demeritt had that 100 percent right.
Appreciate? With the possible exception of those die-hard LePage supporters who use "kiss my butt" as a breakfast greeting, I would submit most Mainers are quietly appalled.
I also chatted with my friend Ray Richardson, co-host of the "Ray and Ted" show on WLOB radio, about why you'd say such a thing after all you've been through already.
Richardson defended you by noting you grew up in a world where people speak without filters, where the path from the brain to the mouth can often be a high-speed express lane, where social niceties are no match for hardscrabble declarations.
"In his world," Richardson explained, "everything's a street fight."
Maybe so. But Governor, you weren't elected to drag Maine's 1.3 million citizens -- some kicking and screaming, others in heavenly rapture -- into your world. You were elected to preside, with as much dignity as a street fighter can muster, over ours.
Say what? What do I mean by "dignity?"
I refer you to President Obama's speech in Tucson. Just two days before you spouted off, he drew praise from the entire political spectrum with his call for all Americans to "make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds."
OK, so you're no Barack Obama. Believe me, Governor, nobody at this point expects you to be.
And we all know you're very busy -- running an entire state being a lot harder than Marden's Surplus Stores and all. As you lamented to the media Friday, "The fact of the matter is there's only so many hours in the day, so many hours in the week and so much that you can do."
So, as I watch the number of online news stories about your latest gaffe fast approaching the 200 mark, I have a humble suggestion:
As you head into Week Three of your (count 'em) 208 weeks in office, try doing a little more with your brain and a little less with your mouth.
And finally, Governor, allow me to close with a request I honestly never thought I'd make to Maine's highest elected official.
Please -- and I'm begging you here -- no more butt talk.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: