March 25, 2011

Our View: Governor picks pointless fight over labor mural

Gov. LePage chooses to insult his opponents instead of engaging them constructively.

Someday, after Gov. LePage has finished his term of service, a portrait of him will be commissioned and hung in the State House.

And then a day may come when one of his successors from another party decides that instead of hanging the portrait in a place of honor, it would fit better somewhere else -- like maybe a storeroom in the basement -- because the new governor disagrees with LePage's stand on the issues.

Absurd? Sure. Insulting? Of course. But no more absurd or insulting than LePage's decision to take down an 11-panel mural from the Department of Labor lobby that shows a century of workers' struggles and successes.

As would the future LePage portrait, the labor mural depicts a piece of the state's history, which may not give the whole story, but tells an important piece of it. And like the future LePage portrait, the labor mural is a work of art, not policy.

That's what's so wrong about Le-Page's decision. Paintings don't make the state more or less friendly to business, unions or the environment. The only things that can do that are the state's laws and regulations and the people elected or appointed to carry them out. Arguing over the placement of a painting is just fighting for the sake of a fight.

LePage has chosen a course that is both provocative and pointless. At a time when union workers in Maine and elsewhere are feeling that their rights are under attack, he decides to assail a series of images of the labor movement's greatest accomplishments, like the end of child labor and the introduction of Social Security. That raises -- at least rhetorically -- questions about his real agenda.

And it's pointless because, in the end, disparaging the heroes of the labor movement does nothing to improve the business climate in Maine.

As for sending messages, everyone knows that Gov. LePage is pro-business, and that doesn't change whether a piece of artwork commissioned during another administration hangs in a state agency's lobby or not.

LePage is a savvy politician, and like every inflammatory statement he has made, this decision will play well with his base of supporters. But it's not going to gain him any trust from his opponents, which is essential to achieving a political compromise.

LePage may say he is not interested in compromise, but it's still the best way to get things done in a democracy.

If he wants to be remembered for any accomplishments when it's time to hang his portrait, he should start thinking now about what fights he really wants to pick.

 

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