LePage's "Kiss My Butt" Saga Is National News
What started as an off-the-cuff statement to a reporter ended up (as all good gaffes do) on the Colbert Report. In between, it sparked a flurry of state and national media attention, focused the ire of a 400-person rally in Portland, and tested a new administration's ability to respond to a self-created public relations disaster.
The three little words that revealed so much about Governor LePage, the Maine public, and the media were uttered at a meeting of business leaders in Sanford on Friday. They were caught on tape by cameras from two Maine TV stations and the clip was quickly posted online.
LePage was responding to disappointment and concern expressed by the Maine NAACP that the governor had refused their invitations to any Martin Luther King Day events on the holiday or over the weekend beforehand and that this seemed to be part of a pattern of declining their invitations.
LePage called the group a “special interest” and, after issuing the invitation for them to kiss his posterior, continued his statement with “If they want to play the race card, come to dinner and my son will talk to them.”
At the same event, LePage told MPBN reporter Josie Huang that “This is nothing but a political race card and tell 'em to get over themselves, I'll send my son, who happens to be a black kid, to talk to 'em.”
The clips quickly went viral and word of LePage's remarks eventually spread to cable news, the New York Times, the Washington Post and, of course, Comedy Central.
Locally, the statement led radio and TV newscasts. WGME invited Maine NAACP head Rachel Talbot Ross into their studio, where they filmed her reaction to watching the video. The remark made the front page of every daily Maine newspaper on Saturday.
The response from the LePage administration as this media storm began brewing may reveal something about how the governor views the media, the public, and public interest groups seeking to have a say in state policy.
“This is about a special interest group taking issue with the Governor for not making time for them and the Governor dismissing their complaints in the direct manner people have come to expect from Paul LePage,” wrote administration spokesperson Dan Demeritt in an email to reporters meant to clarify the situation.
Notice the conspicuous decision not to express anything close to apology or contrition for the rude statement. Obviously, the governor doesn't believe in backing down, even with a tide of public opinion against his actions.
Then came the political aftershocks. First there was some investigation into the exact nature of the relationship between LePage and his son from Jamaica (although not enough, according to Al Diamon).
Then there was the revelation that, despite railing against “special interests,” one of LePage's prior commitments over the weekend happened to be a rally for an anti-abortion group.
There was also steady pushback from the NAACP about another part of LePage's statement – where he claimed that he refused to attend the group's event at a Maine prison because it was limited to black inmates. The civil rights group disputed the claim and provided electronic documentation to the press which appears to show that LePage lied about the nature of the event and the content of the conversation surrounding the invitation.
Of these three follow-up issues, the prison story seems to have the most salience. Taken together with LePage's many previous misstatements, like his remarks about buffalo studies and constitutional repeal provisions, it demonstrates a troubling lack of regard for the truth from the state's chief executive.
Least important, in my opinion, is the discussion about Devon Raymond's place in LePage's family. LePage calls him his son and Raymond calls the governor his dad on Twitter. That's good enough for me, for the same reason that I respect the right for committed gay and lesbian couples to refer to each other as their husbands, wives, or spouses, despite the legal hurdles politicians like LePage have thrown in their way.
The best thing that came out of the whole incident was a renewed sense of purpose and energy at a march and rally in Portland on Martin Luther King Day and a new attention for the issues the NAACP was attempting to promote. The event had been planned before LePage's remarks, but the controversy gave it a great deal more relevance. Participants there spoke out against LePage's first executive order, which targets immigrants.
The worst parts of the evolving controversy have fallen on the shoulders of Demeritt, the spokesperson mentioned above. On the original video clip you can hear LePage, right after the “kiss my but” line, saying “Oh, I got Dan all upset” and a reporter saying “Dan's going to cry.” I think it's safe to assume they're referring to Demeritt.
Things went downhill from there for the gubernatorial flack. Demeritt has now had to spend almost a week defending comments that took just seconds to make. He's been trying to walk things back as much as possible without actually apologizing or admitting any lies or mistakes and seems to be feeling the pressure inherent in this kind of tightrope act. Listen to this interview with Ken and Mike on the WGAN morning show today for some definite signs of strain.
This all occurred during just the second week of LePage's four-year term. It will be intersting to see whether this kind of episode, labeled “straight talk” by the governor's supporters and “being crude, vulgar, and obnoxious” by his critics is a sign of similar things to come or if it will serve as a lesson learned and prompt change and growth in the way the governor interacts with the press and the public. Either way, it will likely be considered one of the defining moments of his first year in office.