Governor Paul LePage and Mural-Gate

Posted on September 29, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

WCSH video interview with Governor LePage

Video via WCSH.

It appears that similar to Gerald’s extraordinary Omnibus of bills, we would be well served to have a primer of the still unfolding events of “Mural-Gate”. So using my previous The First 100 Days of Governor Paul LePage: A Review post as a starting point, I am going to try to fully document on a daily basis, from March to now. Please feel free to add more content and links in comments and I will adjust the post. ~Andi


Panels 7-9 of the Maine Labor Mural.Day 77 of the LePage Administration, March 22The beginning of Mural-Gate.

Today staff of the MDOL learned that this mural would be removed. In an email, Acting Commissioner Laura Boyett made the announcement, along with news that some of the names of the meeting rooms would be changed, names like the “Perkins Room.”Frances Perkins was FDR’s Secretary of Labor, the first woman in American history to head a Federal department.

Here is that initial email:

From: Boyett, Laura L.
Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 12:37 PM

Dear MDOL Colleagues,

The hunt for a new Commissioner is taking longer than anticipated but the search continues.  However, the work of the Department of Labor is important, critically needed and cannot be put on hold until a new leader is found.  When a new Commissioner is appointed, he or she will find a vibrant, progressive agency; staffed by people committed to delivering quality services to the citizens and businesses of Maine.  I am confident of this because it is what I see when I come into the office every day and I am proud to be part of such an outstanding organization.

Maine has just come through one of the most difficult economic crisis in almost 75 years and we still face significant challenges as we recover.  The Maine Department of Labor can play a pivotal role in this process.  For the Maine economy to thrive, we need strong businesses and skilled workers.  They are two sides of the same coin and neither can succeed without the other.  The Department of Labor serves both constituencies.  We assist businesses in navigating the complexities of the regulations they must operate in, help them to set up safe environments for their workers and connect them with workers possessing the skills needed for their businesses to succeed and grow.  We help and support workers through the difficulties of unexpected job loss, connect them to new jobs and provide them with the skills needed to achieve their career goals and succeed in the marketplace.  We bring workers and businesses together to build a strongMaine economy.

This is our charge and our vision for moving forward.  The important work of this agency is not on hold or in limbo pending the appointment of a new Commissioner and I, along with the Acting Bureau Directors, are committed to leading us forward in this direction.

We have received feedback that the administration building is not perceived as equally receptive to both businesses and workers – primarily because of the nature of the mural in the lobby and the names of our conference rooms.  Whether or not the perception is valid is not really at issue and therefore, not open to debate.  If either of our two constituencies perceives that they are not welcome in our administration building and this translates to a belief that their needs will not be heard or met by this department, then it presents a barrier to achieving our mission.

I will be seeking a new home for the mural and we will be renaming the conference rooms in our administrative office at Commerce Drive in Augusta.  However, I’d like your help in coming up with new names for the conference rooms.  I’m holding a ‘renaming contest’ and will select from your suggestions.  The names can be places, concepts or things but should not reflect a bias toward either business or workers – the names should feel welcoming to both.  Although arguments can be made that some of the existing names do not reflect any bias, to keep things simple, we are going to make a clean sweep across the board and change all.  Therefore, we need naming suggestions for 8 conference rooms.  Send your suggestions to Neena Quirion by close of business on April 5th.   There will be a small prize for the successful author or authors so put on your thinking caps!

As I hear news on the Commissioner search I will pass it on to you.  In the meantime, businesses and workers are counting on us to help them during challenging times and after 17 years of working with you at MDOL, I know I can count on all of you to continue to do just that.

Thank you,

Laura Boyett, Acting Commissioner
Maine Department of Labor

At first, it was reported that “an anonymous fax” sent to his office was what caused him to make the decision to remove the mural.

After some pressure, LePage’s office finally released the supposed “fax”. It was quickly noticed that the “fax” had no date or time stamp nor phone number sent- all of which would normally be on a fax. Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokesperson, dismissed this astute observation and revised the document to instead be a letter received by their office.

A CYA story that fooled no one in Maine, including one person who commented the following observation on Dirigo Blue, hinting that the LePage administration created the supposed document themselves quickly, to “hush up” the press:

If you look in the upper left area of the letter, there is something else on the paper.I believe it is the seal that exists on the state letterhead of every modern Maine Governor, and is showing up through the white-out hastily applied over it. Why did this thought occur to me? Because I find it simply impossible that this man has “a secret admirer……..” out there.

 

In the aftermath of that email and the media attention received, we in Maine found ourselves in what can only be described best as “Mural-Gate”:

Day 78 (March 23): Maine AFL-CIO ACTION ALERT: Tell LePage, “Honor Maine’s Working Class History”

Day 79 (March 24): Press Release: Maine Artists and Labor Historians Protest Mural Removal

WCSH-6 reported that the governor was standing by his decision on the mural got a revealing video of LePage calling Mainers “idiots”:

 

Reporter to Governor LePage: “What would you do?” (if protestors formed a human chain to prevent the mural’s removal) LePage:“Laugh at them. I would laugh at them; the idiots. That’s what I would do. Come on; get over yourselves.”

The outcry against the governor continued and grew:

Day 80 (March 25): Maine Women’s Lobby Asks: What Would Frances Perkins Say?

Day 80 (March 25): Playing Musical Chairs With the Maine Dept of Labor Mural?

Day 81 (March 26): Gov. LePage’s Weekly Radio Address: ‘Today, There is a New Mentality in Augusta’

Indeed, there was a “new mentality”. Hours after that weekly address was released, the mural was secretly and quietly removed from the MDOL reception area, packed away and to date, has not been seen since.

MDOL employees returned to work Monday to find clear damage to the now bare walls, stripped of the 11 panels of artwork.

Both the governor and the artist, Judy Taylor, issued statements about the mural removal.

Day 83 (March 28): BREAKING: Governor LePage Releases Statement About Mural Removal

Day 86 (March 30): Artist Judy Taylor upset over mural removal

It was reported on Day 84 (March 29) that despite being on the job for less than 3 months, Governor Paul LePage was taking a full week off for a vacation in Jamaica with wife Ann.

But even the Governor’s absence did not stop “Mural-Gate”, which evolved into a lawsuit and a temporary restraining order being filed against LePage.

As well as an outcry for a citizen’s recall process.

And news of a death threat against the Governor.

And “Mural-Gate” continued to roll on:

Day 87 (April 1): Rep. Cynthia Dill Asks: Citizen’s Recall- What Now?

Day 87 (April 1): BREAKING: Lawsuit Filed Against Gov LePage, Others Regarding Missing MDOL Mural

Day 88 (April 2): Governor LePage’s Weekly Address (2 Apr 2011)

April 5th marked an especially busy day:

Day 91 (April 5): Maine GOP/ Tea Party Antics: Attacking Art and Ripping Each Other Apart

Day 91 (April 5): The Maine Labor Mural Projection Bombing On The Capital

A large rally was held in the Statehouse’s Hall of Flags, also on April 5th. Here is Rob Shetterly, President of the Maine Union of Visual Artists addressing those assembled.

Some quotes:


“Governor LePage’s attempt to discredit and suppress history serves as another kind of reminder about how easily it can be lost and why. He has tried to neuter the Department of Labor by removing the true soul of its mission. He has tried to tell us that organized labor in defiance of a vastly more organized business community is unfair, not balanced. 
He would have you believe that organizing to struggle against social and economic inequality is somehow un-American and bad for business. He knows our history so little, or forgets it so well, that he does not know that the only, I repeat, the only, reason we have freedoms and equalities in this country is because of idealistic, organized struggle by people who had been marginalized for others’ profit.

And the presumption of removing Cesar Chavez and Frances Perkins, great heroes of our democracy and social equality, as names of committee rooms, is like deciding to tell the story of our Revolution without mentioning Tom Paine or Sam Adams.

Just as we cannot be true citizens if we forget our past history, as citizens today we cannot fail the obligations of our current history. The mural must be returned. We will not fail.

I am reminded by these events of the great Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer who said, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I am sick and tired of the crude disrespectful remarks of this governor.

And now, I am especially sick and tired of his arrogant and — how else to call them — stupid comments about this labor mural. He calls those of us who would stand in the way of its removal “idiots” deserving of his ridicule. If that’s the case, then every conscientious struggle for dignity and fairness, democracy and equality, justice and decency in our history, deserves his contempt. And, I’m sure he would freely give it. He may be arrogant and stupid, but he is not naïve.

And LePage’s decision to remove the mural secretly was one of the most cowardly acts I have witnessed. If he believed he was right about removing it, that its eradication was good for the people of Maine, he would have done it in daylight, and been there himself to take credit for protecting us from art as propaganda. In fact, he would be here right now, if he had the courage of his words.

Rarely has an elected leader made clearer the difference between respect accorded to an office and respect earned by its holder. Paul LePage has embarrassed himself, not us. Disgraced himself, not the state of Maine.

The embarrassment and disgrace will be ours if we fail.

We demand that the mural be returned, we demand legislative protection for the rights of labor from the predatory attacks of organized capital, and we demand leadership worthy of the good people of this state.

Then Mural-Gate went to the courtrooms, Maine politicians weighed in, and protests continued:

Day 93 (April 7): Video: Portland Attorney Jonathan Beal Discusses MDOL Mural Lawsuit

Day 93 (April 7): Press Release: Congresswoman Pingree statement on Department of Labor mural

Day 93 (April 7): New MDOL Mural Video: “Paul LePage’s Dream”

Day 94 (April 8): REQUEST for Temporary Restraining Order Filed Against Maine Governor Paul LePage

Day 94 (April 8): “Maine Labor Mural Projection Bombing: PORTLAND

Day 97 (April 11): Video: “Welcome Back, Governor LePage!

Day 98 (April 12): HuffPo Scores Exclusive Interview with ME Labor Mural Projection Bombers

Sidenote: What the heck is “Government Speech”, anyways?

One June 15th (Day 162), the case went to court and the court documents were made available (pdf warning).

Among other things learned was that LePage had the mural taken down, sight unseen.

Attorney Jonathan Beal is quoted thus:

The release goes on to quote Jonathan Beal, co-counsel for plaintiffs in the Federal lawsuit over its removal which was initially allegedly undertaken by Governor LePage based on a fax from a “secret admirer” without fax traces on it before the story was changed to it being an anonymous letter:

“We have been frustrated so far by the Governor’s refusal to tell us how the decision was made, what standards or considerations were discussed, or anything else about the decision to remove this mural. More and more, it seems to just have been a personal decision by Mr. LePage, based on his anti-worker and anti-union philosophy, and not a decision by the state government which could be respected by the Court.” Beal noted that the “fax” which the Governor’s spokesman said had been received, is now an anonymous “letter.”“I have serious questions about whether this was an actual complaint from a member of the public, as opposed to just something the Governor’s office cooked up. With a fax, we could see where it came from, but it appears that the fax was sanitized to prevent this.”

So, for a few months more, not much was said about the mural.

No one knew where it was, the Maine Labor Mural Facebook page continued to keep people updated and grow its membership, and we waited to see what happened next with the only recourse left- the legal system.

reproduction of the 11 panel mural was put on display :

Check out the a reproduction of the 11-panel mural depicting Maine’s labor history that the state’s governor has banned. It’s on display now through Oct. 11 at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C.Maine Gov. Paul LePage ordered the original mural, by artist Judy Taylor, removed from state property in March and continues holding the artwork hostage. The mural depicts the state’s labor history, including a 1986 paper mill strike, “Rosie the Riveter” at the Bath Iron Works and the enactment of child labor laws.

LePage, who supports right-to-work-for-less laws and pushed to weaken child labor laws, claimed the mural was compared with North Korean propaganda. But Mount Holyoke College President Lynn Pasquerella put LePage’s actions into proper perspective when she said they conjure “thoughts of rewriting history prevalent in totalitarian regimes.”

The Maine AFL-CIO is leading a lawsuit to force LePage to return the mural to its previous display site at the state Department of Labor.

Then Governor Paul LePage decided to accept an invitation to participate in the NBC EducationNation Governor’s Forum on September 26 in New York.

Host Brian Williams decided to ask an unprepared LePage about the mural and suddenly the Governor had an brand-new, never before reported reason for why the mural was taken down; here is the clip.

 

 

“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.”

(Who is the “they” LePage is referring to, to whom the apparent ransom or shake-down or pay-off money is supposed to be paid and other details are still murky.)

Maine media was quick to jump onto these new statements:

MPBN: Maine Governor Offers New Explanation for Removing Labor Mural

Lewiston Sun Journal: Gov. LePage has new take on why labor mural was removed

Portland Press Herald: Lepage changes tack on labor mural

Kennebec Journal (opinion): How’s that? LePage’s problem with mural wasn’t its content?

Sep 28, Day 267: UPDATED- LePage: Repay $22,000 to Unemployment Insurance Fund and the Labor Mural will be returned

At a Town Hall meeting last April in Topsham, LePage provided more detail of the funding for the mural, claiming that $38,000 came from the Federal Government and the remaining $22,000 from Maine’s Unemployment Insurance Fund.Should this $22,000 be repaid to the Unemployment Insurance Fund, wouldn’t Gov. LePage have to keep his word and return the mural to its original location?

Adrienne Bennett, Gov. LePage’s press spokesman, hastily released the following later the same day:

The Administration originally removed the mural because of its messaging. The mural portrays only one party that the Department of Labor serves – workers not job creators.  In order to change the culture the decision was made to find a more appropriate location for the mural.It was then discovered how the mural was funded and that these funds could have been put into the Unemployment Trust Fund for Mainers to benefit from.  When the Governor learned of this it further supported the decision.

The Governor took part in this panel discussion to speak about education; however, it is clear that NBC had an entirely different agenda for Governor LePage. With limited time to answer the question the Governor chose to speak about the most disturbing aspect – that this money could have been put into the Unemployment Trust Fund rather than used on a mural. This information was underreported by media this spring.

To this, Maine AFL-CIO Matt Schlobohm released the following statement:


Maine AFL-CIO Disappointed in Governor LePage’s Latest Mural Comments


Statement by Maine AFL-CIO Executive Director, Matt Schlobohm


The Maine AFL-CIO is deeply disappointed in the Governor LePage’s latest comments regarding the labor mural made during an appearance on an NBC Education Summit earlier this week.

Governor LePage’s explanations for removing the mural have changed numerous times now.  Initially the mural was removed because of an “anonymous letter,” then it was too “one sided” and now seven months later Governor LePage has a new explanation. The real issue, however, is not the Governor’s motivations; it is his actions.

The Governor’s decision to remove the mural disrespects generations of hardworking Maine people and erases their history.  It is also part of his divisive, anti-worker agenda which has included rolling back child labor laws, attacking collective bargaining rights and undermining the retirement security of retired teachers and seniors.

The Governor has had every opportunity to take the high road, admit he made a mistake and end Maine’s mural embarrassment.  Instead of making new excuses and spreading disinformation, he should  restore the mural to its proper place.

Sep 29 (Day 268) saw the 61%/ Maine’s Majority issue a statement as well. Some clips:


LePage Must Substantiate Allegations Labor Mural “Robbed” Unemployment Fund

It appears LePage is now taking issue with a portion of the mural expenditure that was paid for with federal Reed Act unemployment insurance funds. However, in April of this year an official with the U.S. Department of Labor informed the Maine Department of Labor that the the mural expenditure was justified:

The Reed Act permits a participating state to use its Reed Act funds, under an appropriation by the state legislature, for the administration of its [Unemployment Compensation] law and public employment offices. The state properly complied with this requirement in paying, under an appropriation, 63.39 percent of the commission from the Reed Act funds in its [Unemployment Trust Fund] account, since the display of this art work in your headquarters served these administrative purposes.

Indeed, a 2003 Maine law, LD1552 “An Act To Allocate a Portion of the Reed Act Distribution of 2002 To Use for the Administration of the Unemployment Insurance and Employment Services Programs,” set aside $9,760,000 of a $32,486,816 Reed Act grant to pay for administrative expenses, including expenses associated with offices, technology and accessibility.

The mural funding in question appears to have come from this administrative allocation, not from the remaining monies which were reserved to provide unemployment benefits.

This is still a developing story and as such, will be updated as needed.

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