AUGUSTA, Maine — Two weeks after a rift developed between Gov. Paul LePage and the NAACP, a coalition of civil rights and immigration activists presented the governor with a “welcome basket” Friday filled with books highlighting Maine’s diverse communities.
But, despite the gift, it appears the promised meeting between LePage and NAACP leaders may not happen anytime soon.
Local leaders with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said Friday they were told the next opening on the governor’s schedule is in March.
“We are disappointed the governor’s office isn’t trying with a little more sincerity to schedule a meeting with the NAACP,” said Rachel Talbot Ross, NAACP’s state director, who also questioned whether business groups would face the same lengthy wait.
But LePage’s spokesman said the group was offered a time slot as early as next week.
“We tried to do a meeting Monday morning and it didn’t work for them, but we are trying to do our best,” said Dan Demeritt, LePage’s director of communications.
Relations between Maine’s new Republican governor and NAACP leaders have been frayed ever since he said “kiss my butt” to critics of his decision not to attend Martin Luther King Day events held by the NAACP, which he called a “special interest group.” LePage did attend a King Day event held in Waterville, however.
But advocates for immigration rights — including the NAACP — had been upset with LePage for several weeks before the now-infamous comment. On his first full day in office, LePage signed an executive order effectively mandating that state employees make sure anyone applying for state or federal benefits is in the U.S. le-gally.
LePage administration officials have said the order was intended to ensure Maine is following federal law and spending social services money only on those in the state legally.
Both the executive order and the “kiss my butt” comment were popular topics at a King Day march and rally in Portland. During the rally, organizers also announced plans for the “welcome basket” full of books on diversity in Maine.
The basket was presented to Demeritt on Friday. In addition to the books, the basket contained a letter signed by representatives from 24 organizations expressing concern about the executive order and seeking a meeting with the governor.
The letter suggests that the order will put public health at risk by deterring immigrants from seeking help or education for their children. It also suggests the order could give a perception of intolerance in Maine, which could have a chilling effect on business.
Groups that signed onto the letter ranged from the Darfur Community Center of Maine and El Centro Latino Maine to the Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.
“Like the rest of the nation, Maine has always been a beacon of liberty and freedom,” reads the letter. “With our concerns in mind, we implore you to ensure that this tradition — one in which all Mainers feel embraced as part of the community and equally protected under the law — is carried forward.”