Gov. Paul LePage and the late Sen. Ed Muskie, one a conservative Republican and the other a liberal Democrat, have one thing in common: a minor incident that dogged them and wouldn’t go away.
With Mr. Muskie, it was the allegation, probably false, that he cried over an insult to his wife. The Maine senator, who had also served as governor and been tapped as vice-presidential running mate by Hubert Humphrey in 1970, was the overwhelming favorite for Democratic presidential nominee in 1972.
The television commentator Mark Shields recalled what happened in a 1996 PBS NewsHour program: “Ed Muskie came to the defense of his wife, Jane, who was unfairly and viciously attacked by one of the really ugly men in American political history, William Loeb, the publisher of the Manchester Union Leader.” He published an editorial questioning Mr. Muskie’s patriotism, but “when he attacked Jane Muskie, it was too much, and Ed Muskie came to her defense … He filled up with emotion at that moment, and somehow men were not supposed to do that at that time.”
Tears came to his eyes as he denounced the attack. Whether it was his own emotion or the snowflakes that fell into his face as a spoke from a railroad flatcar, many took the tears as a sign of weakness, His campaign collapsed. Tears might even mean attractive sensitivity now, but not in those days. He went on to be President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of state, but Maine lost a good chance at the White House.
Gov. LePage could learn a lesson from that incident. His removal of the now-famous labor mural from the office of the Department of Labor surfaced once again last week when NBC anchor Brian William asked whether his order to take them down had anything to do with his position on organized labor.
The governor replied that he had nothing against unions. He said, “My objection to the mural is simply where the money came from. The money was taken out of the unemployment insurance fund, which is dedicated to provide benefits to unemployed workers. They robbed that account to build that mural. Until they pay for it, it stays hidden.”
But, as the BDN reported, Gov. LePage had said earlier that he ordered the murals removed because they depicted a one-sided view of Maine’s labor history. Indeed, the governor didn’t know about the funding source at the time he ordered the mural removed. Nor was the funding source mentioned in early statements issued by the governor’s office.
In a further twist, Maine’s Attorney General William Schneider, in a brief replying to a lawsuit advocating restoration of the murals, said they were removed because they did not reflect the LePage administration’s views on labor. He did not mention the cost or funding.
Unless it is hung back up, he hasn’t heard the last of the mural, which is an unfortunate distraction from the real issues that need the governor’s attention.