Tact, Governor, Tact

Posted Jan. 14, 2011, at 7:14 p.m.

During a flurry of verbal outbursts this fall, Gov. Paul LePage said he had a habit of speaking his mind, but that he needed not to use “street words.” Apparently the effort to drop such words from his repertoire isn’t going well.

During a television interview Friday he was asked how he would respond to the NAACP, which was critical of the governor for declining to attend its events, including those marking Martin Luther King Day on Monday.

“Tell them to kiss my butt,” the governor said with a chuckle, quickly turning to his communications director, Dan Demeritt, saying he had upset him.

Gov. LePage, of course, should speak his mind. But, as governor, he also has to show some discipline and respect.

His answer to a previous question about the NAACP was appropriate and a good explanation of why he has yet to accept any of their invitations. There is only so much time in the day, he said. He has a black son. Further, he denied their request to go to the state prison to meet with black prisoners because he wanted to meet with all prisoners.

All of this is rational and makes sense. So, why denigrate it with “kiss my butt”?

The so-called NAACP snub would have been a short-lived story without the crack. Now, his staff will waste time denying that he is a racist, or at least undignified.

Gov. LePage also seems confused when he says he’s governor of 1.3 million people, not a small group of people and that he won’t cater to a special interest group. Does this mean he won’t attend events honoring the state’s Franco-American heritage or sponsored by the forest products industry?

During the campaign, Mr. LePage was criticized for threatening to punch a reporter in the face and saying he’d be on the front page for telling the president to “go to hell.” In September, he apologized for such comments and joked that his daughter had given him a roll of duct tape.

“I am not politically correct all of the time,” he said in September. “I speak my mind,” adding later, “But I have to learn not to use street words.”

There is a fine line between speaking your mind and knowing when to hold your tongue. As the public face of Maine and all of its people, the governor is expected to know how to do the latter.

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