Martin Luther King Day was in danger of getting boring: Just another day off for the kids and another banquet for the true believers. Kind of like a Jefferson-Jackson Day with sales at the mall.

Not this year, not in Maine.

We can thank our governor. He decided to kick off the holiday that promotes interracial harmony by telling civil rights activists to “kiss my butt.”

Pop quiz: What gets 500 marchers out on the street on a frigid day in January? Well, Gov. LePage certainly didn’t hurt with his ill-timed and vulgar invitation. Some of his backers crowed about finally having a governor who “tells it like it is,” but judging from our mailbag, most people were outraged.

LePage put Maine in the national news and became the subject of a lot of high-minded commentary in which he was reminded that as the governor of the whole state, he is expected to behave in a dignified manner – meaning he shouldn’t say anything that would land a kindergartner in a timeout.

While the notoriously thin-skinned LePage would not give in to the critics and apologize, as we would expect even the kindergartner to do, he did manage to review his schedule.

It was too full last week for him to accept any one of a number of King Day event invitations, but – whatta you know?– he could squeeze in an appearance at the Waterville Martin Luther King Day breakfast after all. He was even photographed doing some penitential booty-shaking to African drum music, looking appropriately embarrassed. This may be seen like a victory for the pro-civility forces, but let’s not be hasty.

This guy has an incredible ability to galvanize the opposition and motivate people. It’s got potential to be a powerful force for good. If we could harness it, it would be better than wind.

The King Day comment is not an isolated incident.

Beginning with his election campaign, LePage managed to motivate true-blue D’s who were scared enough to abandon their party’s nominee for the first time in their lives and vote for a millionaire lawyer from Cape Elizabeth. Eliot Cutler came within a whisker of the Blaine House, thanks to LePage-ophobia.

And then a few weeks ago, a casual dismissal of poetry and choral music in LePage’s inauguration plans got the poetry community up in arms.

Instead of one sentence in the 49th paragraph of the inauguration rundown story mentioning that a designated poet read “An ode to democracy” – or something like that – we saw headlines, letters to the editor, guest columns and a rally protesting LePage’s anti-poetry-ism. It was the best thing that’s happened to poetry in Maine since Edna St. Vincent Millay won the Pulitzer.

(Choral music fans, you whiffed on this one. You’ll have to be a little more outraged the next time you get snubbed.)

If LePage can elevate poetry to this level of prominence, what else could he do to get people excited and involved? We should be lining up to get insulted by him.

I guess I could hope that he would personally insult me, but that would be selfish. And I don’t need to prod him or his supporters to lash out at the newspapers where I make a living. That’s apparently already part of the game plan.

To those “special interests” who think the government should protect clean air, clean water or people with disabilities – get ready. Your moment is coming, and when the grotesque insult comes your way, you can only hope you that you handle it with the skill shown by the leaders of the Maine NAACP.

Not that refuting what Le-Page had to say was hard.

First, he declared he would be no prisoner of “special interests.” The fact that he said it at a Chamber of Commerce event on the day before attending a Right to Life Committee rally speaks for itself.

And then he made reference to an NAACP invitation to the Maine State Prison, which, he said, he turned down because they wanted him to speak only to black prisoners.

The NAACP leadership disputes this characterization, saying that he was invited to speak to all prisoners and he told them that he was too busy. Seeing as how the president of the organization’s prison chapter is white, I tend to believe their version.

But none of this would have made more than a ripple if the state’s chief executive hadn’t mustered his best oratory and told a reporter that the organization “can kiss my butt.”

National spotlight. A nut graf for a thousand sermons. 500 marchers out in the cold.

Thank you, Governor. This going to be an interesting four years.

 

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