PORTLAND, Maine — The politics of free speech played out Tuesday night in paint splashed and sprayed onto an outer wall of Portland’s sewage treatment plant, where late last week an artist painted the likeness of Gov. Paul LePage dressed in the white robes of a Ku Klux Klan member.
The politically barbed mural stretches nearly 30 feet along a wall that Portland sanctions for graffiti and included the message “Dump LePage!” in bold, six-foot lettering. It also labeled him a “RACIST,” “HOMOPHOBE,” “BIGOT” and “GOVERNOR,” with the last word crossed off in red.
Portland declined to remove the mural, with a spokeswoman saying it did not qualify as hate speech and is therefore protected under the First Amendment.
But around 7 p.m. on Tuesday at least two people who felt the mural went too far in likening Maine’s chief executive to a klansman took up brushes and rollers, and covered the picture of LePage with white paint, according to Emma Sawyer, a 21-year old University of Southern Maine student who came upon the mural as it was being covered up.
A graffiti mural of LePage originally had him dressed as a KKK leader, but this morning he has Mickey ears. pic.twitter.com/ymb3QMJfPS
— Kelsey Fabian (@KelseyFabian) September 7, 2016
She and a friend had read news reports of about the political art and — fed up with the governor — wanted to see the mural for themselves, Sawyer told BDN Portland. But they were dismayed to find part of the mural covered.
“He literally white-washed a piece about racism in government,” said Sawyer of one of the painters, identified by WCSH as Mark Reilly, a LePage supporter.
Finding the paint still wet, Sawyer and her friend began using fallen leaves and wet clothes to uncover the mural — kicking off an argument that was captured on camera by a local TV station.
Eventually more people joined in uncovering the mural, Sawyer said.
Sawyer and her friend had a conversation with one of the men who painted over the mural and he agreed not to re-cover it, she said. Sawyer conceded that it is inflammatory, but said that the depiction of LePage in Klan robes drives a point home.
“It’s like any other political caricature or satire on a larger scale,” Sawyer said. “It’s a little more outspoken than normal but I think that’s appropriate given that LePage is more outspoken.”
The image of LePage is presently uncovered, but later Tuesday evening, someone painted Mickey Mouse ears onto the likeness of the governor and scrawled the message “No hate” in spray paint.