A mural of Maine Gov. Paul LePage has caused a heated debate over the limits of free speech, the Portland Press Herald reports.
The mural, which originally featured LePage dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, underwent several makeovers on Tuesday night. First, a city resident named Mark Reilly painted over the graffiti with white paint. However, a group of people scrubbed the paint away and added Mickey Mouse ears to the governor’s image, along with the words “No Hate” and “Hate is Hate.”
The mural appeared after LePage blamed Maine’s drug crisis on minorities. At a town hall meeting, LePage said that “90-plus” percent of heroin traffickers who were arrested in the state since January were black or Hispanic.
The argument that the mural has sparked over free speech has to do in part with its location. The wall on which it is painted is owned by the Portland Water District and has been available to graffiti artists for 15 years. In all the time that the wall has been available for artists, the water district has never removed any art, with the exception of a city clean up when chunks of paint were falling off of the wall.
Originally, a city spokeswoman said that the city would not take action because the mural was a free speech issue. On Tuesday afternoon, though, water district spokeswoman Michelle Clements told the Press Herald that the water district’s general manager was looking into whether anything could be done.
City residents, including the mayor, appear to be divided over the mural. Mayor Ethan Strimling said that the original painting of LePage was “a step too far.”
‘I do not want it up there. It is not reflective of our values,” Strimling said. “The KKK has a long, problematic history in the state of Maine, and equating the governor and his rhetoric, as much as we disagree with it, is a step too far.’
Strimling was sure to clarify that he does not want the mural removed because he supports LePage. “I am as frustrated as the next person with the governor’s rhetoric,” he said. What it comes down to for Strimling is his belief that “it is not appropriate to trivialize the KKK.”
Jay Norris, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association, gave a response similar to Strimling’s, saying that he agrees with the sentiment, but not the depiction.
Other residents appreciate the mural, however. Kellie Smith said about the depiction of LePage,
‘This is the trajectory he is on. This is an honest portrayal, it is good work.’
Another resident, Tim Kennedy, agreed with Smith and described LePage as “a hateful person.” Kennedy added, “When he expresses hateful views, he gets what he gets.”
The news report below, courtesy of WMTW-TV via YouTube, includes an interview with Strimling about the mural:
Featured image via Getty Images.