AUGUSTA, Maine — The mural may be gone, but the controversy appears far from over. And critics of Gov. Paul LePage’s decision to remove the labor-themed painting from a state building appear determined to keep it that way.
On Friday, six individuals — including three Maine artists — filed a lawsuit in Portland seeking to have the mural restored to its previous home in the Department of Labor building in Augusta.
Some of those plaintiffs will likely be in Augusta on Monday when a “Return Our Mural” rally is held just outside of the governor’s office. And for those seeking a more academic discussion of the issue there’s a round-table forum at the Portland Museum of Art next Friday concerning “public ownership of public art.”
So even though LePage apparently told Republican lawmakers on Thursday that he was going to do a better job of “zipping my mouth,” the governor’s critics apparently don’t intend to do the same.
Who’s that face?
Some supporters of the governor, meanwhile, have lately been raising questions about one aspect of the mural — namely, the identity of one particular face in the 11-panel painting.
The face in question bears a striking resemblance to former Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman, who headed the Department of Labor at the time that Judy Taylor of Tremont won the competition to paint the mural. Taylor was paid $60,000 from a federal grant to complete the tribute to Maine’s labor movement.
Fortman — or someone who looks just like her — appears in a panel alongside former U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, who helped President Franklin D. Roosevelt enact the minimum wage, Social Security and other landmark aspects of his New Deal.
Some Republicans have raised the issue of Fortman’s presence in a mural with the news media.
The conservative website AsMaineGoes.com also prominently featured the Fortman question as the top item on the site for several days. A link on the site also led to a PDF file titled “Image of Corruption,” suggesting that “the real story” behind the mural was that Fortman may have asked to be painted into the artwork.
For her part, Fortman deferred questions about her likeness in the mural to Taylor. In an email response to questions, the artist said she alone made all artistic decisions for the mural.
“The speculations are meaningless to the content of the mural and its purpose, as I used so many models and composites of hundreds of individuals who walked into my studio,” Taylor wrote. “Nobody, and in particular Laura Fortman, asked me to put them in the mural.”
Before joining the Baldacci administration, Fortman was executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby and executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center in Maine.
A lawmaker’s campaign to give Maine voters the ability to recall unpopular politicians may not have gone far with her fellow legislators this week, but it appears to be picking up traction on the web.
Rep. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, introduced a joint order on the House floor Thursday that, if approved by both chambers, would direct a legislative committee to draft a measure enabling voters to recall the governor, lawmakers or constitutional officers.
The measure was promptly “tabled indefinitely,” a parliamentary procedure that prevented further consideration.
But an online petition drive launched by Dill through liberal-leaning MoveOn.org had already picked up more than 5,000 signatures, the vast majority identifying themselves as Mainers.
Here’s a sampling of noteworthy or merely interesting events coming up in Augusta next week:
- School consolidation: Various bills addressing the controversial issue of school consolidation will be on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee’s agenda beginning at 9 a.m. Friday.
- Synthetic grass: The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will consider a bill, LD 914, to make illegal several types of synthetic marijuana. The hearing is at 10 a.m. Friday.
- Smart meters: A bill, LD 756, that would allow homeowners to opt out of the electricity suppliers installing so-called “smart meters” will be considered in the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee at 11 a.m. Monday.
- Shoreland zoning: The Environment and Natural Resources Committee will take up a slew of bills looking to rewrite the laws restricting development in shoreland zones. The hearing will be held at 9 a.m. Friday.
- Coyotes: The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee will consider at least five bills dealing with expanded coyote hunting at 1 p.m. Wednesday.