NAACP: LePage has set a tone that ‘should be an offense to all Mainers’

By Kevin Miller, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 15, 2011, at 7:38 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The NAACP continued to criticize Maine Gov. Paul LePage on Saturday one day after his flippant “kiss my butt” remark and other comments riled the organization’s leaders and sparked a national media firestorm.

But local leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People say they are still interested in having a sit-down with Maine’s new Republican governor. And a LePage spokesman said the governor is certainly open to a meeting, as long as the issues on the table are applicable to all Mainers.

“He told me today that if they want to meet and talk about things that are important to everyone, he is willing to have that conversation,” Dan Demeritt, the governor’s director of communications, said Saturday.

LePage made his now-infamous “Tell them to kiss my butt” statement Friday morning after he was pressed for a response to suggestions that his decision to skip two NAACP events honoring Martin Luther King Jr. were part of a troubling pattern.

As a candidate and as governor, LePage has apparently declined several invitations to meet with the NAACP or attend organization events. But LePage insisted it had nothing to do with race, pointing out that his family includes an adopted Jamaican-born son, Devon, who is black.

Instead, LePage labeled the NAACP a “special interest.”

“The NAACP is not a ‘special interest group,’ as Gov. LePage assumed,” Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the national NAACP, responded in a statement released Saturday. “In fact, we are a public interest group and our goal for over 100 years has been to build one America and one Maine.”

Rachel Talbot Ross, state director of the Maine NAACP, accused LePage in the release of setting a tone in his first 10 days in office that “should be an offense to all Mainers and the office he has been entrusted to lead with civility, honesty, and decorum.”

Talbot Ross said, however, that her organization takes seriously LePage’s pledge during his inauguration speech to listen to and work with anyone offering “honest solutions that benefit all Maine people.”

“We want to be part of this process and continue to ask for a meeting to begin working in a respectful and transparent manner for the betterment of our state,” Talbot Ross said in a statement released Saturday.

For the LePage administration, the key words in that phrase appear to be “all Maine people.”

Demeritt said the governor is perfectly willing to talk with NAACP representatives about the broad issues facing the state, such as poverty, immigration and education.

“The governor is willing to meet with anyone to talk about things that affect all Maine people,” Demeritt said.

But both privately and publicly, NAACP members and supporters of the organization have pointed out discrepancies in LePage’s explanation for why he will not attend NAACP events for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Sunday or Monday.

In the case of the Monday event — a breakfast being held at the University of Maine in Orono — LePage has said he plans to attend a funeral for a former Maine State Police trooper. But NAACP members point out that the governor declined the invitation a month ago — long before he knew about the funeral.

They also have accused LePage of grossly misrepresenting in his public statements an earlier invitation from the NAACP.

“They invited me to go to the state prison to meet black prisoners,” LePage told reporters during the Friday interview. “I told them I would go, I’d be more than happy to go but I would meet all prisoners. And that wasn’t acceptable to them, so tough luck.”

But NAACP leaders pointed out that the event was a voter registration drive for all prisoners — not merely black inmates — and that half of the members of the NAACP chapter at Maine State Prison in Warren are white. Furthermore, prison policies would prohibit the segregated events.

The “kiss my butt” incident is sure to reverberate into next week. In addition to the King events sponsored by the NAACP on Sunday and Monday, a rally is also planned in Portland on Monday to protest an executive order from LePage regarding undocumented immigrants.

LePage, meanwhile, used his second weekend radio address — prepared before Friday’s dust-up — to pay tribute to King and to call on Mainers to remember the victims of last week’s shooting involving Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“I hope this weekend as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s life we all take a moment to reflect on the other lives that have been lost in our great nation this week,” LePage said. “We have come far through the years, but the journey continues to make Dr. King’s dreams a reality.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/01/15/politics/naacp-lepage-has-set-a-tone-that-%e2%80%98should-be-an-offense-to-all-mainers%e2%80%99/ printed on August 2, 2014