Maine's new governor has been in office for less than two weeks, but he's already created a stir after telling the NAACP to "kiss my butt."
Paul LePage, the state's first Republican governor in 16 years, made the remark last week after drawing criticism from the civil rights organization for saying he would not attend events commemorating Martin Luther King Day.
"They are a special interest," he told the Portland's WCSH-TV. "End of story. And I'm not going to be held hostage by special interests. And if they want, they can look at my family picture. My son happens to be black, so they can do whatever they'd like about it."
He added, "Tell [the NAACP] to kiss my butt. If they want to play the race card, come to dinner and my son will talk to them."
LePage has a Jamaican son named Devon Raymond, who attended the new governor's swearing in along with LePage's four other children, the Portland Press Herald reported.
According to LePage's spokesman, Dan Demeritt, the governor could not attend King events because he had previous personal commitments on Sunday and is attending the funeral of a retired state trooper on Monday, the Waterville (Maine) Morning Sentinel said. The Associated Press reported Monday, however, that LePage changed his plans and appeared at a breakfast honoring King, even taking part in an African dance.
In a statement following the governor's initial comments, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said, "LePage's decision to inflame racial tension on the eve of the King holiday denigrates his office. His words are . . . out of touch with our nation's deep yearning for increased civility and racial healing."
Rachel Talbot Ross, the state director of the NAACP, also weighed in: "I don't care who he's got in his family," the Morning Sentinel reported her saying. "And he's saying we're playing the race card? The makeup of his family isn't the issue and it never was the issue. 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. Our kids deserve better. Maine deserves better. His son deserves better."
LePage, a businessman who served as mayor of Waterville before running for governor, won a close race over independent Eliot Cutler and Democrat Libby Mitchell in November.
In the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 19 others nine days ago in Tucson, there have been widespread calls for greater civility in the nation's political discourse. LePage, however, appears not to have gotten the memo.
"I'm sure the governor wishes he'd used different words, but he's a blunt, outspoken person, and that's one thing people like about him," Charles Webster, chairman of Maine's Republican Party, told USA Today.
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