What’s a Governor to Do?

Our elected officials probably spend a frightening amount of their time attending special events as guests of honor and speakers.  Their presence at various functions offers a form of legitimization for a group, a cause, or what-have-you.  But should we be surprised – or disappointed – if our elected officials fail to attend certain functions?

The governor of Maine is in some hot water because he’s not attending the NAACP’s state celebrations for Martin Luther King Jr. over the weekend.  Governor LePage is not personally attending, nor does he appear to be sending anyone from his office to represent him.  When people began to complain about this rather noticeable absence, the governor responded with all of the diplomacy and political astuteness that great politicians are known for. 
He told the complainers to “kiss my butt”.  Once I quit laughing, I started thinking.  
The story goes to pains (no doubt at the request of Governor LePage’s office) to offer evidence of his sensitivity to MLK, and to stress that his non-attendance is a matter of scheduling issues rather than a commentary on MLK.  Of course, the hope that this could be taken at face value is pretty naive these days.  Particularly when a minority group is involved.  
Must a governor personally endorse everything that the voters in that state have affirmed?  Is there no room to expect that as a human being, an elected official is not compelled to personally agree with every holiday or celebration, and that disagreement does not render the official incompetent or unworthy to govern and represent?
Mind you, the article in no way implies that Governor LePage is not attending because of any sort of personal issues with MLK or the NAACP.  But clearly those who are unhappy with his decision not to attend are taking it this way.  Given his flippant response to initial concerns, this is not entirely without merit.
Or is it?
One person is quoted as lamenting that the governor has “thrown down the gauntlet when this was just an invitation to come together”.  Of course, if it’s “just” an invitation, then why were people beginning to complain that the governor wasn’t able to make it?  Clearly it was more than just an invitation – it was an invitation with an expectation, and when the expectation wasn’t met, the governor was seen as being at fault and open to criticism.  
NAACP president Todd Jealous accuses the governor of inflaming the situation and “out of touch with our nation’s deep yearning for increased civility and racial healing.”  I’m assuming that this is in response to the “kiss my butt” comment.  Otherwise, why would failing to attend the events in question be any less civil than those who chose to complain and criticize the governor?  Wouldn’t the issue of civility have first come into play when the governor indicated that he was unable to attend?
I don’t know anything about Governor LePage or his issues privately or politically.  But this story leaves a lot of questions, and paints a clear picture that some invitations are not to be turned down because they aren’t really invitations.  They’re demands.  And demands are rarely “civil”, and probably not very often forms of “healing”, racial or otherwise.  
* * * * * 
So I went looking for other articles on this situation.
I found this rather biased editorial that takes the governor to task for being rude to his citizens.  Of course, the governor wasn’t being rude to his citizens, as near as I can tell.  He was being rude to a national level organization that was beginning to try to pressure him to change his plans by questioning and drawing attention to the issue.  This article also has further quotes from Governor LePage arguing that, basically, he has to make calls like this all the time because he can’t attend everything that everyone would like him to.  It seems like a valid point.  Except that, once again, certain invitations aren’t invitations, they’re expectations.
I have no interest in defending bigotry or racism, but I do question – based on these articles – whether that must be what is at play here, as certainly is now being insinuated to greater degrees.   I have no idea what Governor LePage’s other commitments are.  Frankly, as long as his motives are not racist, I don’t care.  He’s a human being who has to make choices.  Or more accurately, who seems to be challenging the facade that these sorts of things are actually choices rather than expectations.  Perhaps he’s just pointing to the man behind the curtain, and letting us draw our own conclusions.  
What are yours?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s