In March 2011, then-Gov. Paul LePage ordered the removal of a mural hanging in the lobby of the Maine Department of Labor. The mural (currently displayed at the Maine State Museum) depicts vignettes of state and national labor history. Included are Colonial-era shoe-making apprentices, lumberjacks, a “Rosie the Riveter” in a shipyard and a 1986 paper mill strike.

The reason given for the removal was that it was “one-sided” – presumably that it was pro-labor and anti-business. A dubious claim was made that there were complaints from the business community; “several,” to be exact, according to LePage’s spokeswoman at the time. Critics of the decision, in Maine and the U.S., including the artist (Judy Taylor), replied that the mural was not biased but simply depicted historical fact.

Also depicted in the mural is Frances Perkins, whose family homestead is in Newcastle. Perkins distinguished herself as the longest-running secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, as well as being the first female U.S. Cabinet member. Something she accomplished that all Mainers should be grateful for is her drafting of the Social Security Act of 1935, which we all benefit from today.

This call to return the mural to the Labor Department lobby is not a matter of not getting over it or a vindictive slap in the face. It is a matter of the mural being returned to its rightful place, to honor Maine workers.

The removal was a unilateral order of the then-governor, and its restoration could be accomplished similarly. The mural’s removal was challenged in federal court. In November 2012, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the appeal, but the judge ruled: “Governors and administrations are ultimately accountable to the electorate through the political process, which is the mechanism to test disagreements.” The voters have now spoken.

Jeff Christiansen


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