AUGUSTA, Maine — A year after Gov. Paul LePage stirred outrage by saying critics of his decision to skip NAACP-sponsored Martin Luther King Day Jr. events could “kiss my butt,” he is politely declining invitations to annual breakfasts honoring the civil rights leader in Orono and Portland so he can attend one in his hometown of Waterville, his office said Thursday.
The governor received invitations from leaders of the Bangor and Portland chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to attend their annual breakfasts, LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Thursday. The Bangor chapter holds its breakfast in Orono.
LePage responded that he already had planned to attend the King Day breakfast event in Waterville, which is held around the same time of day and he has attended for several years, Bennett said.
“Unfortunately, the timing of the Bangor branch’s event does conflict with the Governor’s other MLK commitment that day; and therefore, the Governor is unable to accept the invitation,” said an email from LePage’s scheduler, Jeanne St. Pierre, to Diane Khiel of the civil rights group’s Bangor chapter. “We thank you for your understanding,” it concludes.
A similar response was sent to Rachel Talbot Ross of the Portland branch. Khiel deferred to Ross for comment.
Ross said that while past governors have attended or sent representatives to the Portland breakfast, that’s less important to her group than the fact that LePage is recognizing the day, as he’s doing in Waterville. LePage is also issuing a proclamation calling on Mainers to honor King by participating in community service.
“We’re pleased that the leader of our state is going to take time to honor a great American, whether it’s in Portland, Orono or Waterville,” said Ross. “We hope that eventually we will be able to get the governor to spend time with us.”
A year ago, LePage drew national attention after responding to a reporter’s question about criticism he had received over his decision not to attend the state NAACP’s annual King Day celebrations. He said at the time that he didn’t attend events for special interests.
“Tell them to kiss my butt,” LePage was quoted as saying. The comment drew harsh criticism from state and national leaders of the NAACP, as well as from politicians and editorial writers in Maine.
In the wake of his comments, LePage attended a Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast in Waterville, where he served as mayor before being elected governor in 2010.
“For many years, the governor has attended this particular event to honor Dr. King and that’s what he’d like to continue to do,” said Bennett.