It is good to see that the LePage administration reacted quickly to the inappropriate and insulting behavior of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Philip Congdon. We have to ask, however, when the same standard will be applied within the governor’s office itself.
Mr. Congdon resigned Wednesday after it was revealed that he made disparaging remarks about Aroostook County residents and minority groups.
A retired Texas Instruments executive living in Maine, Mr. Congdon reportedly made racially insensitive or inflammatory remarks about college students and dismissive comments about the prospects for economic development in Aroostook County during a visit there earlier this month.
The chamber event was an award ceremony and annual dinner meant to be an upbeat event.
“The thing was, we were so excited to have the DECD commissioner speaking at our event,” Jenny Coon, interim executive director of the Caribou Chamber of Commerce, said. “We were anxious to show him how proud we are of our heritage and our local businesses and our region as a whole, and it went in a whole other direction.”
According to the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Mr. Congdon said the nation’s higher-education system had been in decline ever since the civil rights movement resulted in more black Americans being admitted to colleges and universities under affirmative action programs.
He also said Aroostook County residents could forget about waiting for economic development opportunities to come to The County, and that if they wanted economic development, they needed to “get off the reservation and make it happen,” according to MPBN.
The comments were considered so egregious that lawmakers and others wrote letters to the governor expressing their concerns. The governor wisely took these concerns to heart — although they were neither mentioned in the press release announcing changes in his cabinet, nor did the governor condemn them — and Mr. Congdon resigned.
Gov. Paul LePage has said plenty of disparaging things himself in recent months. Calling constituents “dingbats,” as the governor did at a recent forum in Topsham, because you disagree with them is also insulting. So, too is mocking critics of his decision to remove a mural from the Department of Labor as “idiots” and saying he’d laugh at them. Telling critics of his decision not to meet with the NAACP to “kiss my butt” was also offensive.
And, these are things the governor has said in public. Imagine what he says in private meetings with businesspeople and lawmakers.
Gov. LePage should follow the advice of eight members of his party who serve in the state Senate. “Belittling comments, whether they come from the governor or his opponents, have no place in Maine public life,” the GOP senators, led by Roger Katz of Augusta and Brian Langley of Ellsworth, wrote in a newspaper column.
“As Republican senators we refuse to question the motivation, intelligence or humanity of those with whom we disagree,” they wrote.
The governor should hold himself, as well as his commissioners, to this standard.