Maine's Labor Mural Prompts Lawsuit, Recall Effort

fromMPBN

The removal by Maine Gov. Paul LePage of a huge mural depicting the state's labor history has prompted a lawsuit seeking the painting's return and a citizen's effort to recall the Republican. LePage had contended that the 36-foot mural made business interests uncomfortable.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

A few weeks ago, we brought you the story from Maine, where Republican Governor Paul LePage wanted to remove a mural from the offices of the State Department of Labor. He worried that its depiction of the state's labor history would turn off business interests.

Well, the mural actually went missing a few days after our broadcast, only to turn up in a state storage room. But it did not go quietly. Susan Sharon, of Maine Public Broadcasting, reports that the removal has prompted a citizens' effort to recall the governor, and a lawsuit seeking the painting's return.

SUSAN SHARON: Governor LePage has made it clear that the 36-foot-long mural -depicting scenes of women shipbuilders, factory and forest workers, and a pair of labor strikes - is too one-sided for a state agency that he says is supposed to serve both labor and business interests.

Governor PAUL LePAGE (Republican, Maine): It's the Department of Labor, not the Department of Organized Labor. And until we make that determination, it needs to be neutral.

SHARON: The governor is on vacation in Jamaica this week, but that didn't stop mural supporters from congregating at the Maine statehouse to demand its return.

Unidentified People: (Chanting) Put it back. Put it back...

SHARON: Artist Natasha Mayers claims the mural's removal violates the First Amendment. She's one of six people who filed a federal suit against Governor LePage and other state officials. The controversy has made headlines around the country.

Ms. NATASHA MAYERS (Artist): A Hartford paper called this the most moronic and mindless, antiworker gesture in the whole country.

(Soundbite of applause)

SHARON: The mural fight is just the latest in a series of headlines for Governor LePage, who told the president to go to hell and told the NAACP to, quote: Kiss my butt.

A Democratic lawmaker's online petition to establish a citizens' recall for the governor and other elected officials has now garnered more than 10,000 signatures.

The distractions have even begun frustrating members of the governor's own party. Today, eight Republican senators wrote an op-ed piece asking him to refrain from picking personal fights, and to show more respect.

The U.S. Department of Labor paid $60,000 for the mural, and now says it wants its money back.

For NPR News, I'm Susan Sharon in Augusta, Maine.

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