A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Wish We Had Your Problems, Maine!

The assault on middle-class workers right to organize has been gathering steam in many state legislatures. Unions are beginning to fight back, but it promises to be a long battle. Most of the fights have been connected to state budget deficits, and in those cases the issue has some merits. State legislators in Wisconsin and Ohio have been eager to divine other results from their portrayal of unions as the big, bad wolf of the public sector.

Then there is the case of Maine, where the fight hasn’t been linked to a money crisis, but is rather more cosmetic. Here, the governor, acting on a complaint in an anonymous e-mail, has ordered that a mural in the state’s department of labor be removed. The mural depicts various images of Maine’s labor history such as factory workers, working children with lunch pails, people engaged in various industrious pursuits, and strikers on a picket line. Allegedly the e-mail complained that the mural was anti-business and compared it to a propaganda technique used by North Korea.

NOTE OF FULL DISCLOSURE: until this issue appeared in newspapers, I had no idea that Maine had any industry at all. Without the benefit of in-depth internet research, I can think of only two products for which Maine is known: lobsters and Stephen King novels. Indeed, if this were true, then why does the state of Maine need a department of labor at all?

This issue leaves me with a variety of feelings. I can understand why Governor Paul LePage wants to make his state more business friendly. More business naturally means more jobs, more prosperity, and more tax revenue to pay down rising state budget deficits. As a historian, I am pissed off! How dare this man deny a vital part of his own state’s history! LePage invites the risk of repeating the mistakes which made the rise of unions possible in the first place.

I also can’t help noting that LePage shares a physical quality with such other freshmen Republican governors Chris Christie and Tom Corbett. To put it diplomatically in Mystery Science Theatre 3000 parlance, these gentlemen are “doughy guys”. This is a much nicer term than describing their physique as ranging anywhere from “pleasingly plump” to “morbidly obese”. NOTE OF FULL DISCLOSURE: anyone who knows me personally can attest to the fact that I have been to the trough more than a few times myself.

My point is that LePage and his colleagues contribute to the public’s perception that they are fat cat businessmen who can live off the fat of the land. They are playing into the Daddy Warbucks stereotype, which doesn’t elicit much sympathy from the everyday middle-class worker who struggles to put food on the table or keep a roof over his head. In this context, the whole issue is silly.

LePage himself has come off as abrasive with his blunt governing style. So far, he has riled civil rights groups when he refused to meet with members of the NAACP for Martin Luther King Day, telling critics that they could “kiss my butt”. He has also installed one of his children as an assistant to one of his advisers complete with a $41,000 salary, a $15,000 benefit package, and a $10,000 housing allowance, according to Wikipedia. I will be very surprised if LePage gets a second term as governor.

Fortunately, there are now some signs of sanity on the issue. A group of eight state senators — Republicans, no less — have written a letter rebuking the governor’s rash decision to remove the mural. The governor himself reportedly has expressed concern that his order caused so much controversy.

Now it appears that the action will cost Maine some bucks. The federal government has notified the state that removal of the mural violates a funding agreement between the two levels of government. The fed's message: put the mural back up or pay back the federal money you used to commission the work of art. Stay tuned for further developments...

At first glance, it appears that Maine has no more pressing problems than the meaning of a painting. I only wish the rest of us had problems this trivial, but unfortunately that is not the case. The state has, as one report stated, 50,000 unemployed people. Governor LePage should stop playing art critic/interior decorator and put his energies in getting his people back to work. After all, not everyone is able to trap lobsters or write horror novels.

(Thank you for writing. Please remember, wall decorations depicting historical events are more interesting than a bare wall.)


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