Defending his decision to take down a mural at the Department of Labor building and change the name of conference rooms considered too pro-labor, a spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage released a faxed complaint comparing the art to North Korean propaganda.
“In this mural I observed a figure which closely resembles the former commissioner of labor,” an anonymous fax given to the Portland Press Herald reads. “In studying the mural I also observed that this mural is nothing but propaganda to further the agenda of the Union movement. I felt for a moment that I was in communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses.”
A spokeswoman for the governor, Adrienne Bennett, told TPM that while she didn’t want to “give validity” to the specific sentiments in the fax, it was one of numerous complaints brought up by senior policy staff when the LePage administration took over the department.
“The message we want to send is ‘We’re here for you,’ for job creators and employees,” she said. “The decorum needs to represent neutrality.”
Democrats and labor organizers slammed the decision on Wednesday, labeling it a cheap and unnecessary poke at unions.
“I think its horrible,” Don Berry, head of the Maine AFL-CIO, told TPM. “It’s Hollywood LePage. Right or wrong, he likes being in the spotlight.”
Disputing the idea the building was equally relevant to business owners as well as workers, Berry said that “I’ve been through those doors many times and I’ve yet to meet a businessman going through them — 99% of them would never enter there.”
Berry was particularly upset to see FDR Labor Secretary Frances Perkins denigrated by the governor’s decision to remove her name from a conference room and her depiction from the mural given her historic achievements and her ties to the state.
“She was from Maine and the amount of work that she did for the working men and women of this country was phenomenal,” he said. “Unemployment, Social Security, the first woman to hold a cabinet position — to take her name off the door is just appalling.”
According to Bennett, the governor was “not going to pick and choose which ones” are appropriate for room names, opting instead for neutral replacements such as mountains our counties. She cited Cesar Chavez as one problematic name, however, given that he is person who clearly “takes a stance on issue.”
Mary Erin Casale, executive director of the Maine Democratic Party, told TPM that the move was just the latest of a long string of anti-labor skirmishes by the governor, pointing to his support for “right to work” legislation that would ban requirements that non-union workers pay union dues.
“It’s just another attack against working Mainers,” she said.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.