An attorney for five people who sued over Gov. Paul LePage’s decision to remove a large mural depicting scenes from Maine’s labor history from a state office building that housed the Labor Department is challenging the governor to stand by his administration’s pledge to display it elsewhere.
Jeff Young said Thursday that he’d consider dropping litigation if the state displays the mural at the Maine State Museum or other suitable location.
“We are calling upon the governor to keep his word and get this thing displayed in a venue that he considers to be appropriate. Our suggestion is that it be displayed at the Maine State Museum, which is a repository for paintings and objects that are related to the state of Maine,” he said.
Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokesman, said Young’s comments were “insulting.”
“The administration has publicly said, all along, that this artwork should be placed in the appropriate setting, which is not the lobby of the Department of Labor,” Bennett said.
She said the matter is under review and a decision on the venue for the artwork is expected “shortly.”
The Republican governor created an uproar last year when he ordered the removal of the 11-panel, 7-foot-tall mural because he believed it presented a one-sided view of history that bowed to organized labor and overlooked the contributions of entrepreneurs responsible for creating jobs.
The mural’s scenes included World War II’s Rosie the Riveter, a 1937 shoe strike in Maine and New Deal-era U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, among others.
Three artists, a union member and a former Occupational Safety and Health Administration official who were plaintiffs in the lawsuit contended that the removal of the artwork from display in the Labor Department’s reception area violated the mural artist’s First Amendment rights. But the lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge and the decision was upheld Wednesday by an appeals court in Boston.
Young could appeal the decision to the full 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or U.S. Supreme Court, or he could file new legal action in state court on other grounds. He had made no decision as of Thursday.
The appeals court Wednesday agreed with the LePage administration that the governor’s actions amounted to political speech. Chief Judge Sandra Lynch wrote that “governors and administrations are ultimately accountable to the electorate through the political process.”
Young took exception with the suggestion that it’s up to voters to settle the matter.
“We shouldn’t put First Amendment rights up to a vote. The First Amendment is designed to protect not just the majority view but the minority views as well,” he said.
The mural was commissioned by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci and created by Judy Taylor after a competition by the Maine Arts Commission. Taylor did not participate in the lawsuit.
A full-size replica has been displayed in Maine, but the original artwork’s location has been a mystery ever since its removal. The LePage administration has declined to say where it is.
LePage previously suggested hanging the mural in Portland City Hall.
During oral arguments in Boston, the state’s counsel committed to showing the mural elsewhere and noted that the publicity has made the mural the “most famous piece of art in the state of Maine,” Lynch wrote.