UPDATE: The newly sworn-in Republican governor of Maine, Paul LePage, hastily added an appearance at a Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial breakfast on Monday after taking political flak for refusing to attend events honoring the civil rights leader.
In explaining to a TV news crew late last week why he declined an NAACP invitation to MLK Day events, the tea party-backed LePage called the group a “special interest” and said: “Tell them to kiss my butt.”
But after the comments drew outrage from the NAACP and other groups, LePage added a stop to his schedule Monday for an MLK breakfast in Waterville, the town where he served as mayor prior to becoming governor.
However, he did not appear at the events in Bangor and Orono to which he was invited.
“Dr. King is someone who spent and ultimately gave his life making sure that people got a fair shake regardless of race,” LePage said in a statement released by his office. “We have come far through the years, but the journey continues to make Dr. King’s dreams a reality. I urge all Mainers to work as one for a better life for all.”
ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS BELOW
There may be more graceful ways to handle an invitation from the NAACP to celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s legacy.
Maine’s new Republican Gov. Paul LePage was invited by the civil rights organization to attend ceremonies on Monday, a federal holiday, to honor Dr. King. He declined, upsetting the group.
“They are a special interest. End of story,” LePage said of the NAACP, according to Maine news station WCSH6. “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.”
Pressed by reporters on his reasons, the tea party-backed governor added: “Tell ’em to kiss my butt. If they want to play the race card, come to dinner and my son will talk to them.”
LePage adopted his son from Jamaica, WSCH6 reports.
A spokesman for the governor later told the local station that LePage had committed to attending a state trooper’s funeral Monday.
The NAACP (short for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), which voiced its displeasure with LePage upon hearing he declined their invitation, shot back.
“We don’t want to misinterpret his intention, but the message we’re getting is that we’re not welcome and we’re not part of the Maine he’s preparing to lead for the next four years,” Rachel Talbot Ross, NAACP’s Maine director and president of its Portland Branch, told the Portland Press Herald.
This apparently isn’t the first time the NAACP and LePage have clashed. Ross told the Press Herald that the Republican governor has refused several invitations from the the group in recent months. The NAACP also took issue with a recent executive order by LePage permitting state officials to investigate immigration status when they stop people.
The following video is from WSCH6.