Emails reveal emotions ran high after Gov. LePage ordered removal of labor mural

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Gov. Paul LePage's decision to remove a mural depicting the history of the labor movement in Maine struck a raw nerve as critics lashed out in correspondence that poured in from all corners of the country, with several dozen writing letters vowing to cancel summer vacations.

Joe Phelan

In this March 25, 2011 photo, Jessica Graham, right, of Waterville, Maine, leads a gathering in front of a mural honoring labor, in the Department of Labor building's lobby in Augusta, Maine. The group gathered to honor the 100th anniversary of the New York Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which killed 146 garment workers. The mural was taken down over the weekend after Gov. Paul LePage ordered it removed. (AP Photo/Kennebec Journal, Joe Phelan)

The raw outpouring of emotion, with people opposing the governor's action by a margin of more than 9-to-1, flooded the governor's office with several thousand emails in less than a month.

"Your attacks on the working class of your state are just appalling to me and despite my love of the Maine coast, I will not set foot or spend one red cent there," wrote Audrey Fine Marsh of Media, Pa.

Using Maine's Freedom of Access law, The Associated Press obtained and reviewed more than 1,000 emails, faxes and letters that poured into LePage's office in the weeks after he removed the mural that was installed in 2008. Featuring Rosie the Riveter and other figures from Maine's labor history, the 36-foot mural included 11 panels, each 7 feet tall.

LePage was alerted to the mural by a "secret admirer" who claimed it was an affront. LePage determined it presented a one-sided view that bowed to organized labor.

The ensuing flap came on the heels of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's introduction of a bill that stripped away the right of most public employees to collectively bargain for their benefits and working conditions, whipping up emotions of labor supporters to lash out at both governors.

All told, LePage received more than 2,500 emails, letters and faxes from March 16 through April 8. The AP reviewed 1,135 letters, emails and faxes from across the country; another 1,450 electronic faxes came from people filling out an online form on the website of an advocacy group.

According to AP's analysis, 92 percent of the individual letters opposed the governor's action; the figure becomes even more lopsided when the faxes from the advocacy group Maine's Majority are factored in.

LePage concedes the uproar and lawsuit filed over his actions created an unwanted distraction, but he insists that he did the right thing by taking the mural down. Symbolically speaking, the governor feels that the labor mural suggested the Labor Department cared only about workers, not businesses.

"That needed to happen to create a cultural change in that department and the mentality that both job creators and employees are on a level playing field," said spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett.

Many letter-writers agreed with the governor.

"Hang in there. Don't let the liberal screwballs, the media, the crybabies and the art culture dissuade you from the superb job you're doing," wrote Anthony Soychak of Rockwood, Maine.

Said Mary DiGioia, of Alpharetta, Ga.: "Congratulations to you for your courage in taking down the proletariat artwork in the state Department of Labor office."

But the vast majority opposed the governor's decision. Diana Dionne-Morang, 2008 history teacher of the year from Gardiner, Maine, wrote that the labor mural serves as "a tribute to the sacrifices and travail of our Maine ancestors that deserves recognition."

And Deon Gordon of Dallas responded with sarcasm: "If business is not represented here, why not just add a mural of a rich man lighting a cigar with a $1,000 bills?" she wrote.

The flood of electronic and snail mail overwhelmed the governor's office, which has only two constituent services workers dedicated to reviewing correspondence and forwarding it to the appropriate contact.

About three-dozen of the more than 200 people who identified themselves as being from out-of-state vowed to vote with their wallets in boycotting Maine, a disturbing development in a state known for its lobster and rocky coast and for which tourism is the biggest industry.

Some said they'd been coming to Maine for years but won't do so this summer. One vowed to cancel an elaborate wedding expected to cost tens of thousands of dollars.

"Every summer for 11 years my family has traveled to enjoy a vacation in Maine. This year we will not be doing that. Your decision to remove the mural disgusts us. You are a low life. Off to Massachusetts!" wrote Jack Kear of Madison, Wis., reflecting the sentiments of some out-of-staters.

Sentiments like those may make some in the tourism industry uneasy.

"The governor's tagline is 'open for business' and hopefully that tagline will be kept firmly in mind during the all-important summer tourism season and into the future," said Michael Boland, who operates a pair of restaurants in Bar Harbor and in Portland. He said "every little bit" counts when it comes to tourism.

But Kathryn Weare, general manager and owner of The Cliff House in Ogunquit, described the labor mural brouhaha as a "tempest in a teapot." She said Maine's tourism industry is far more concerned about gas prices and consumer confidence as the summer season approaches full swing.

But Marsh, the former vacationer from Pennsylvania, told The AP that politicians like LePage should be mindful of unintended consequences of their actions.

"They'd better watch it because Maine is 'Vacationland.' They want all kind of vacationers, not just right-wing vacationers or pro-business vacationers," she said.

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Monika Mathur in New York contributed to this report.

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Comments

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

THE MURAL

Frankly until he took it down I had never heard of this mural. Now it has a national audience and a huge fan base within the State of Maine. We will probably be looking at representations of part of it whenever labor has anything to say for years to come. I expect we will see a whole lot of it before the next election. Thank you Governor Lepage for reminding those of us who support labor why the fight for fair wages and decent working conditions was so long and hard.

Mark Elliott's picture

This article is quite funny

This article is quite funny actually! Ask ANY government official in any town and any state if they get a lot of positive e-mail or letters.......I bet they'll tell you most is negative. Perusing any official's e-mail is like dropping a bucket in a septic tank and complaining about the amount of crap you hauled up! This article is not a fair depiction of the type of support LePage had on this issue.

 's picture

In a filing with the courts

In a filing with the courts this past week, taliban paul admitted he hadn't even seen the mural. All it took was one fat cat buddy to complain, and bam it's destroyed. Who is suppose to represent the people of Maine?

the mural...

Governor Lepage has the right to put his stamp on the government..He was elected legally to become our Governor..I bet most of the anti Lepage emails were from union members around the country..They do all think alike and do as their bosses tell them..They should be glad the poster is tucked away safely and not burnt on the front lawn... He removed it ===so what?????

GARY SAVARD's picture

I wonder how many people who

I wonder how many people who "cancelled" planned vacations to Maine were actually planning to come here in the first place. . Threats like that make great E-mail fodder, though. The mural is gone, and so should the never ending rehashing of it's removal.

Larry T. Doughty's picture

Govrnor LePage-Mural Emails

Sorry to learn that Audrey Marsh will not be 'stepping a foot into Maine this summer'. We will miss your Audrey terribly. Continue to enjoy your state of Pennsylvania.

Doreen Sheive's picture

But

LePage paid not one little bit of attention to all these negative responses to his taking the mural down. I will repeat my original assertion, the Maine Department of Labor exists to protect workers' rights so the mural was quite appropriate. It certainly appears that LePage does not like democracy.

Larry T. Doughty's picture

Governor Lepage-Mural Emails

This is why we love Governor LePage. He does what he thinks is best for Maine. He doesn't get bogged down with all of the most negative comments, spewed upon him or his administration.

Edward S Phillips 's picture

Liberal complainers

Can not understand that business is leaving the state because of the nasty attitude toward them.
It takes both business and labor not just labor. With out business there is no labor.
Case in point AG of Maine operating in unfriendly, high regulations and union labor is bankrupt.
AG of New England operating in business friendly state with few nasty regulations and none union work force is prospering.

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