On the eve of Martin Luther King Jr., Day, Maine's newly elected governor Paul LePage has told a local television station that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People can "kiss my butt."
Early Friday, the local chapter of the NAACP had expressed concern over LePage's announcement that he would not be attending MLK events as his predecessors had. The governor told a reporter that he wasn't attending because the NAACP was "a special interest… and I'm not going to be held hostage by special interests."
When the reporter asked if this was part of a pattern, as a local NAACP representative had suggested, the governor, who has an adopted son from Jamaica, said: "Tell 'em to kiss my butt. If they want to play the race card, come to dinner and my son will talk to them."
The statement has shocked many in Maine, a state with a reputation for political moderation and relatively civil public discourse. "For him to say we're playing the race card shows a real lack of awareness of the very important issues we're working to address," NAACP's Rachel Talbot Ross told the Portland Press Herald. "Our kids deserve better. Maine deserves better. His son deserves better."
LePage, a Tea Party-backed Republican, edged out independent candidate Eliot Cutler by 1 percentage point to win November's three-way gubernatorial race with just 38 percent of the vote.
On the campaign trail, LePage made a number of high-profile gaffes and controversial statements. He stormed out of his own press conference when a public-radio reporter pressed him on a suspected property-tax dodge, and later said, on camera, that he'd like to punch that reporter in the face. He erroneously claimed to reporters that a state Democratic Party official had blogged that he was unqualified to be governor on account of his Franco-American ancestry. Most famously, he promised supporters that if he were elected governor, they'd see a lot of him on the front pages of newspapers telling President Obama "to go to Hell."
Colin Woodard is an award-winning journalist and the author of The Republic of Pirates, The Lobster Coast, and Ocean's End. His ecclectic beats include Balkan affairs, Maine culture and politics, ocean science and policy, global warming, and North American colonial history. He lives in Portland, Maine.