FARMINGTON, Maine — College freshman Ally Hammond, an Auburn native, said she was shocked a sign she held up Tuesday prompted Gov. Paul LePage to storm off, calling her and another student “idiots.”
Hammond, 19 and a psychology major, said she doesn’t dislike LePage because he’s a Republican but because she doesn’t believe he “represents Maine values.”
“He’s outwardly very rude, he makes offensive comments and he makes no effort to protect our environment, which I think is one of Maine’s most important assets,” Hammond said. “He’s openly insulted educators and education itself for some reason, which is another big problem.”
Hammond said she and fellow student Nick Bray felt compelled to make known their feelings about Maine’s bombastic governor. She said their intent was to hold their signs quietly in the back of the crowd and that they didn’t intend to disrupt the ceremony meant to honor former UMF president Theo Kalikow by renaming a building in her honor.
LePage was on hand Tuesday during the renaming of the University of Maine at Farmington Education Center on campus to the Theodora J. Kalikow Education Center. Kalikow served as UMF president from 1994 to 2012.
Hammond held a sign that read “LePage: Maine’s Shame.” Bray held a sign that read “Report Card, Subject: Environmental Issues, Theo Kalikow A+, Paul LePage F.”
“April 26th, 2016, will forever rest in my memory as the day Paul LePage personally called me an idiot,” Hammond wrote on Facebook. “I stood silently near the back of the crowd holding a sign that said ‘LePage: Maine’s Shame’ and not ten seconds into his speech, he stormed away, calling me and Nick Bray ‘idiots.’”
Bray posted a photo of his sign on Facebook without much explanation or opinion.
Much of the reaction on social media and in reader comments on stories has ranged from accusing LePage of having “thin skin” to admonishing Hammond and Bray for showing disrespect.
“Why should LePage have stayed and been disrespected? It was not a political rally. Why would he want to stay and be insulted? Why are people defending the student’s First Amendment rights?” wrote Dylan Antone on the Sun Journal’s Facebook page.
“And to anyone saying we ‘ruined’ the dedication: No, wrong,” Hammond wrote on Facebook. “It’s not our fault that our governor is prone to temper tantrums.”
On Wednesday, Hammond, who is attending UMF on a George Mitchell scholarship she earned for outstanding academic achievement and being the first from her family to attend college, said most of the reaction from her classmates has been positive.
Hammond, a 2015 graduate of Edward Little High School, said her mother works overnights at the Auburn Wal-Mart.
Bray is also a George Mitchell scholar, Hammond said. The two are friends through that program but don’t really spend a lot of time together otherwise, Hammond said.
Hammond also said she intended to contact Kalikow by email because she had heard Kalikow has always been supportive of students having the right to practice their First Amendment rights.
While she’s a registered Democrat, Hammond said she believes both conservatives and liberals have a role to play in American society.
“I’m obviously a liberal,” Hammond said. “But I don’t hate Republicans and I think that both Republicans and Democrats have their place. I’m not that partisan but I do lean left,” Hammond said. “If he was just any Republican politician, I wouldn’t be bothered by him.”
Hammond said she finds LePage’s rude comments and other behaviors to be offensive. She also said LePage, despite saying he wanted to help lower college costs for Maine students during his second term, has done little to help students.
“I’m not saying that the man has never done anything good in his life,” Hammond said. “But I would like to see any evidence at all that Paul LePage has decreased my student debt. He might have wanted to make that part of a campaign but I don’t think he’s made any real difference.”
“He’s clearly got a lot of pent-up anger going on in there,” said the first-year psychology student.
A message to LePage’s communications team seeking clarity on why he left the UMF ceremony so abruptly Tuesday was not immediately returned.