Maine is facing a “brand crisis.”
But we’re also facing a crisis that is much deeper and more profound than the damage that’s being done to our state’s image.
Gov. Paul LePage, with his racist, bigoted and uncontrolled behavior, has brought shame upon the state.
So much so that it could impact Maine as a vacation destination.
Or push businesses — and new jobs and new investment — away.
But beyond the dollars signs, the boycotts and the national headlines featuring LePage and his foul language and made-up “facts,” Maine is at a point of reckoning.
Are we going to allow politicians to feed on the worst impulses of us all for political gain? Are we going to stand by while a governor attacks black people and Hispanic people and puts a target on their backs?
Will we tolerate racism and homophobia?
And will we reward politicians who seek power at the expense of progress and tolerance?
For as sure as Paul LePage has crossed the line and shown himself to be unfit to govern our state, there are other Republicans who see opportunity. They believe — or at least are acting as if they believe — a political strategy of racial division and hatred will pay dividends in November.
LePage has made it clear where he stands: People of color are the enemy and should be shot; the worst insult you can call someone is a homophobic slur; and it’s OK to threaten violence against others and urge Mainers to take the law into their own hands.
In the wake of his outrageous behavior, Republicans — not all, but too many to discount — are coming to his defense, blaming the media, blaming Rep. Drew Gattine, who was the target of a vile verbal attack by the governor, and blaming immigrants.
You name it. The blame is tossed about everywhere but where it belongs — squarely on the shoulders of the governor.
They talk about the governor’s straight talk. It’s no such thing.
As multiple sources have demonstrated, it’s just not true.
It’s a made-up number that he uses to justify his own prejudice and to fit the narrative he’s constructed in his own mind.
But apologist Republicans are banking on the fact that a lot of their supporters don’t know or care what the facts are. They believe — and God help us if they’re right — that the key to their electoral success is to defend the governor or, even worse, adopt his race-tinged worldview.
It’s vile. And in some districts, it might just work.
That’s the crisis we face. As Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has shown on the national level, there is a constituency that responds to racial animosity, bigotry and hatred.
It breaks my heart to think such a tactic might work in Maine, where my experience in every part of Maine tells me our state and its people are better than that.
The Associated Press, the largest news-gathering organization in the world, reported on the potential problems that LePage and his obscene antics could cause for a state that’s growing more dependent on tourism and visitors for jobs and economic opportunities.
The story, which traveled on the wires around the world, quotes a marketing expert from Portland talking about the situation.
“People are paying attention now, directly or in their minds, about what’s going on up there in Maine,” said David Goldberg, an advertising and public relations executive in Portland who identified Maine’s brand crisis.
And they’re paying attention for the wrong reasons.
When businesses look to grow and expand, they look for communities where their workers will be welcomed. They look for diverse, educated communities where the best and the brightest — regardless of skin color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion — feel at home.
Ask North Carolina and Indiana what happens when major employers and job creators think a state is run by bigots. Short answer: Bad things. The jobs go elsewhere.
The battle Maine faces right now isn’t for tourist dollars or direct investment — though those things might get the attention of some political leaders. The fight now is for the soul of our state, the kind of people we want to be, the kind of communities we want to live in.
For Republicans who are trying to find their way, you know how history will judge these events and LePage.
After the short-term political give-and-take is lost to memory and the procedural questions are forgotten, all that will remain are the big, undeniable facts. How will your actions be judged?