When Gov. Paul LePage made comments last week that caused a national uproar, he was sincerely addressing Maine’s grave problems with heroin addiction and deaths.
But sincerity is not enough. When combined with defensiveness, it’s counterproductive. The governor has a tendency to portray himself as the only one who cares and has the right answers. He’s refused to meet with legislators. Last week he blamed reporters for reporting what he said and pointed to his early years as an excuse, using the sort of explanations he’d never accept from others.
You may think what LePage said wasn’t problematic. But when we see how his remarks are being promoted by some, it’s clearer how they tarnish our state’s reputation.
Avowed racist David Duke praised LePage’s remarks on what Duke termed the “defilement of white women.” Duke said the male names LePage used “evoked the whole gangster rap industry” which is promoted by the “Zionist media, with all its degeneracy.”
Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, defended LePage’s comments, saying, “When I see a twenty-something black guy decked out in bling grocery-shopping with a chubby white girl in Bangor, my educated guess is that he’s a drug dealer from New York, and she’s a native Mainer welfare queen.”
I’m sure the governor disagrees with David Duke’s hate-filled view of the world. I hope LePage disagrees with Lockman’s racist and misogynistic stereotyping. But does LePage see how his words could be interpreted thusly?
The governor should also take in the words of a white Maine woman in a biracial marriage who wrote in a Facebook post that’s gone viral, “Last week the governor in Maine, my state, suggested to the world that if one were to see me (the white girl) and my daughter (the biracial girl) walking down the street, that she is a product of my involvement with a drug dealer from out of state. And even worse, that she wasn’t wanted. . .[T]hese words were cruel, infuriating, insulting, and full of hate and should not be tolerated.” She and her husband are educated and have good jobs.
We live in an increasingly diverse nation. Maine cannot prosper if it is seen as a place where racist stereotypes abound and nonwhites are not real Mainers.
LePage said in his press conference that Maine is 95 percent white, so when he said “white girls” he was talking about all Maine women, suggesting that nonwhite women don’t count as Mainers.
Still, the governor’s statistic is very close to the Census Bureau’s most recent figure that non-Hispanics whites are 94 percent of Maine’s population.
And it’s that statistic, in national context, that reveals how damaging LePage’s remarks were. Across the U.S., only 62 percent are non-Hispanic whites. Thus only 6 percent of Maine’s population is nonwhite compared with 38 percent nationwide.
Why does this matter? Beyond the ethical problems with the governor’s remarks, they make it harder to deal with Maine’s biggest long term problem — our aging, slow-growth population. Having more babies is not enough. We need people to move here.
Since the rest of the country is 38 percent nonwhite, if 1,000 people reflecting the country’s average demographics moved to Maine, 380 would be nonwhite. Whether white or not, most people in the country have a lot of experience living and working in diverse communities.
Hospitals and businesses recruit talented employees of all races. Professionals who freelance decide where to live based on personal comfort level. Companies looking where to locate new facilities care about whether their staff will be happy living there. Corporations and other companies want diverse workforces since they generate creative ideas and can work with and appeal to communities through the country and the world.
With the huge amount of free negative national publicity about the state and race, LePage’s comments have marred Maine’s national image of lobsters, Stephen King and natural beauty. That hurts our ability to attract individuals and businesses.
Instead of touting his hatred of politics, LePage will have to develop political skills and work with legislators in order to address our problems. A real solution to the drug problem can’t rely mostly on law enforcement thwarting people from away.
A self-reflective LePage could consider how his comments cause more social and economic problems and make it harder to address them.