MLK Day: Two Governors Faltered in Trying to Get it Right

MLK Day: Two Governors Faltered in Trying to Get it Right


On our national holiday celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., two of America’s governors displayed a lack of appreciation and empathy for the life and dream of the slain civil rights leader.  Both the Governors of Maine and Ohio demonstrated public gaffs that differed in degree, but the two mistakes epitomize the lack of conversation about preserving honor, humanity and decency in our political discourse.

Both governors happen to be Republican.

Ohio’s Governor John Kasich has been in office for only a few months.  Though his staff has been hard at work this term, they seemed to forget the reason that most of people in state government did not come to work Monday.

Gov. Kasich issued a resolution honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., except he got the day wrong.  Monday January 17, 2011 was the date Kasich’s resolution should have read, but instead the date printed on the resolution was March 17, 2011, St. Patrick’s day.  Since then the typo has been corrected.  Adding more fuel to the fire is the fact that Governor Kasich has appointed 22 members to his cabinet, none of whom are African American.

“I don’t look at things from the standpoint of any of these sort of metrics that people tend to focus on, race or age or any of those things,” Gov. Kasich said in firm defense of his actions in comments to The Plain Dealer. “It’s not the way I look at those things. I want the best possible team I can get, and hopefully we will be in a position that we are fully diverse as we go forward.”

His lack of diplomacy extended when he refused to attend an event hosted by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Cleveland commemorating King’s legacy, even though he was in town.

By a similar token, Maine’s newly elected Governor, Paul LaPage was off to a running start in his first two weeks in that past as he pumped up his political rhetoric. During his campaign for Governor, LaPage said that if elected, he would tell President Obama to “go to hell.”  LaPage is Maine’s first Republican Governor in 16 years.

In a botched attempt to distance himself from what he called “special interest groups,” La Page refused an invitation from the Maine branch of the NAACP to participate in MLK Day events.

After the civil rights organization criticized Governor LaPage’s decision not to attend their events, he told the NAACP to, “kiss my butt.”

“They are a special interest,” he told Portland Maine’s WCSH-TV. “End of story.  And I’m not going to be held hostage by special interests.  And if they want, they can look at my family picture.  My son happens to be black, so they can do whatever they’d like about it.”

LaPage’s son was adopted as a teenager.  He is originally from Jamaica.

Few people will know whether LaPage received counsel from his aides or had a sit-down with his son after his spurious remarks, but he ended up doing a complete turn around to attended MLK events on Monday.  He attended Portland Maine’s Waterville breakfast honoring Dr. King.

“Dr. King is someone who spent and ultimately gave his life making sure that people got a fair shake regardless of race,” he said. “We have come far through the years, but the journey continues to make Dr. King’s dreams a reality. I urge all Mainers to work as one for a better life for all.”

Strong leadership drives a vision.  The vision and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King should live through America’s leaders and our representative democracy.  Our elected officials are a part of a working democracy, which mirrors our culture.  After shouldering civil rights and ultimately laying down his life, respect is rightfully owed to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from all Americans, including two Republican Governor’s who, because of their age, likely witnessed the civil rights movement first-hand.