Maine Gov: Tell The NAACP To Kiss My Butt

Paul LePage, the recently-elected Governor of Maine, isn’t known for being particularly sensitive. But he may have hit a new low today with racially insensitive comments that seemed to marginalize his state’s African Americans, who make up just one percent of Maine’s population.

The state’s NAACP chapter invited Mr. LePage to a Sunday dinner and Monday breakfast to commemorate the Martin Luther King Day holiday. Gov. LePage declined both invitations. He was quoted as saying:

“They are a special interest. End of story. And I’m not going to be held hostage by any special interests. And if they want, they can look at my family picture. My son happens to be black, so they can do whatever they’d like about it….Tell ’em to kiss my butt….If they want to play the race card, come to dinner and my son will talk to them.”

When Mr. LePage says, “Tell ‘em to kiss my butt,” he clearly seems to be talking about the NAACP, not African Americans in general. But issues of race are political landmines, and many people will hear the comments more broadly than he intended them.

Mr. LePage’s comments remind me of similar comments made by presidential candidate Ross Perot in 1992. When addressing delegates at the NAACP annual convention, Mr. Perot referred to the African Americans in attendance as “you people” numerous times, a phrase that offended many in attendance.

Media storylines usually fit people into pre-existing archetypes. In this case, the media will report the story using two archetypes: the Goliath (the bombastic, insensitive governor), and the David (the proud Maine African Americans who hoped their governor would celebrate an important holiday with them).Rachel Talbot Ross, the state director for the NAACP, looks genuinely hurt over his comments. It’s worth watching the below clip to see why she is so effective as a spokesperson.

That Mr. LePage has an African-American son strikes me as a bit of a non sequitur. I’m sure he loves his son, but that says nothing about his voting record on issues of concern to African Americans. After all, many male politicians have wives they love, and many of those men have dreadful voting records on women’s issues.

Still, it’s not too late for Gov. LePage to end the controversy and win the news cycle. He would be well-advised to change course and attend the Monday morning breakfast. Doing so would be a big win for him, helping him reach the 62 percent of voters who didn’t cast a vote for him (he barely won a three-way race). He’ll score extra points if he demonstrates humility by poking gentle fun of himself.

I doubt he’ll do that. Gov. LePage recently declared he was “going to be the Chris Christie of Maine,” and it seems he’s fashioning himself to be a larger-than-life political figure. But Bangor isn’t Newark, and I can’t imagine his confrontational style will wear well over time.

Related: Turning The LePage