Finally, LePage called on the TV news reporter who informed the governor about the lawmaker’s comments to apologize. The governor vowed never to speak to reporters again for making him look bad.
Now the long version:
“Black People Kill Mainers”
It all began on August 24 at a town hall meeting in North Berwick when LePage took a pre-screened question from undercover comedian Andrew Ritchie regarding comments the governor made in January about drug dealers named “D-Money, Smoothie and Shifty,” who, the governor said back then, come from Connecticut and New York to sell their heroin and impregnate young, white Maine girls. After a firestorm of controversy, LePage refused to apologize to African Americans for his remarks, denied that he was talking about black people and faulted the media for stirring up controversy. A month later he admitted he was talking about black people.
The governor’s January comments were praised by white supremacists around the country, including former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, who devoted an entire radio show to thanking LePage for exposing “black drug predators” and their “white victims.”
Ritchie, an African American New Yorker who claimed to be a businessman originally from Maine, asked LePage how he could consider bringing his “business” back to Maine given the “toxic environment” the governor’s created by singling out people of color as drug dealers.
“Let me tell you this, explain to you,” LePage replied, as seen on videos of the event. “I made the comment that black people are trafficking in our state. Now ever since I said that comment I’ve been collecting every single drug dealer who has been arrested in our state. Sir, you are welcome to come look at them.… I don’t ask them to come to Maine and sell their poison, but they come, and I will tell you that 90-plus percent of those pictures in my book, and it’s a three-ringed binder, are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Connecticut, the Bronx and Brooklyn.”
Ritchie then suggested that perhaps local police were racial profiling people of color. As studies have shown, whites and blacks use and sell drugs at similar rates. According to FBI statistics retrieved by the Portland Press Herald, only about 14 percent of drug dealers arrested in Maine in 2014 were black and the rest were predominantly white.
“There are a whole lot of white girls, too, a whole lot of white girls,” LePage replied to Ritchie. “In fact, in almost every single picture is a white Maine girl in the picture.”
(On Wednesday, Vice Magazine posted Ritchie’s account of the incident titled “How I Trolled Maine’s Racist Governor into an Ugly Public Meltdown.”)
The day after the town hall forum, WMTW reporter David Charns asked the governor what he thought of people who thought his statements were racist. Charns added that Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook) called those comments “racially charged.”
“Let me tell you something. Black people come up the highway and they kill Mainers,” the governor replied. “You ought to look into that!” LePage then stormed out of the State House shouting, “You make me so sick!”
Shortly after, LePage went back to his office, called Gattine and left what has become the voicemail heard ‘round the world.
“Mr. Gattine, this is Governor Paul Richard Le-Page. I would lock [sic] to talk to you about your comments about my being a racist, you cocksucker and … I wanna talk to you. You want … I want you to prove that I’m a racist. I’ve spent my life helping black people and you little sonuvabitch socialist cocksucker. You … I need you to … just friggin … I want you to record this and make it public because I’m after you. Thank you.”
The governor then summoned a few reporters down to the Blaine House for an impromptu press conference.
“When a snot-nosed little guy from Westbrook calls me a racist, now I’d like him to come up here because, tell you right now, I wish it were 1825,” LePage said according to the Portland Press Herald. “And we would have a duel, that’s how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be [Alexander] Hamilton. I would point it right between his eyes, because he is a snot-nosed little runt and he has not done a damn thing since he’s been in this Legislature to help move the state forward.”
The duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr actually occurred in 1804. In a statement the following day, the governor apologized to the state for using such profane language, but he called Gattine “the worst word I could think of” because racist “is the absolute worst, most vile thing you can call a person.” The LGBT rights group Equality Maine quickly released a statement stating that Mainers “deserve a leader who respects all Mainers, not a homophobic governor who uses anti-gay slurs for his petty personal attacks.”
LePage said his call for a duel was meant as a “metaphor” and called on Gattine to “stop giving inflammatory sound bites” and accused him of protecting drug dealers who are “killing Mainers, destroying families and creating drug-addicted babies” in order to “make a profit.” The governor added that it was a private voicemail message and that Gattine was “not very brave” to release it to the press, even though LePage very specifically said in the message that he wanted Gattine to make it public. It was actually the Portland Press Herald who retrieved the voicemail through a Freedom of Information request.
People of Color are “the Enemy”
Then at about noon on August 26, the governor called yet another press conference in which he pulled out his binder full of mugshots and held up pictures of black men and white women to “prove” that 90 percent of the drug dealers arrested were people of color. He said he had directed his staff to begin collecting the mugshots and newspaper articles of drug arrests after newspapers reported on his racist remarks back in January. He then went on to make a statement which some have construed as a call for an outright race war.
“When you go to war, and the enemy is red and you’re in blue, you shoot at red. Don’t you Ken [Fredette]? You’ve been in uniform,” LePage said to House Republican Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) who was at the press conference. “You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy, and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin. I can’t help that.”
On Monday, LePage drew even more headlines when he complained during a meeting of New England governors and Canadian premiers in Boston that “nobody wants to listen” to his point that black drug dealers from Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts, are importing drugs into Maine. In a press statement, Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera blasted LePage for scapegoating people of color and noted that Lawrence officals aren’t “bemoaning the flood of guns bought in Maine with its weak gun laws.” On Tuesday LePage was still fuming that anyone would ever suggest that he’s a racist.
“I am a lot of different things and I have faults like everybody else” he told WVOM, “but a racist is like a word that … I just can’t explain it. It’s like calling a black man the n-word or a woman the c-word. It just absolutely knocked me off my feet.”
As Maine was thrust into the spotlight for the governor’s race-baiting and obscenity-laden tirades, Democratic leaders say it’s finally time for LePage to resign because he is not “mentally or emotionally fit to hold office.” Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) called on the governor to “take appropriate steps to get help.”
“We live in volatile times and words can and do instigate violence,” Gideon said in a statement.
A number of centrist Republicans also condemned the governor’s remarks, including Sen. Amy Volk (R-Cumberland), who has suggested that the governor’s bizrare behavior may be caused “by substance abuse, mental illness or just ignorance.” Volk called on legislative leaders to reconvene and censure LePage. Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo County) told reporters Wednesday that the governor’s actions were “inappropriate” and would have gotten a person fired in a private business for doing the same thing.
“I think a lot of us here are concerned about the racial nature of the remarks,” said Thibodeau. “I’ve shared with the governor [that] we live in a time in America where racial tensions are high and we don’t need to be throwing gasoline on that fire. So he needs to refrain from doing that.”
Thibodeau said he had asked LePage to apologize to Gattine, give a heartfelt apology to the people of the state of Maine and asked him to seek some sort of professional counseling. Thibodeau said no one in his caucus was discussing impeachment or forcing him to resign, but did not elaborate further on whether an official censure vote was in order. However, Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond (D-Portland) said censure is not an option. “The governor has displayed behavior that indicates he is not in control of himself and unfit to carry out the serious duties of his office,” said Alfond in a statement. “That is the fundamental problem and it can only be resolved by his stepping down from office.”
House Republicans Refuse to Take Action
In order to impeach or censure the governor, the Legislature would need the majority support of parties in both the House and Senate to reconvene, but House Republicans say they’re sticking by the governor. After a two-hour House Republican caucus meeting Tuesday night, Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) and Assistant Minority Leader Ellie Espling (R-New Gloucester) said that the caucus does not support coming into session to deal with the governor’s conduct. Fredette scolded reporters for not focusing on rising income growth in Maine, which he credited to LePage’s leadership. Local midcoast Republicans James Gillway (Searsport), Jeff Hanley (Pittston) and Deb Sanderson (Chelsea) did not return requests for comment, but Sanderson told MPBN Tuesday that she had seen both Democrats and Republicans misbehave and that the Legislature should focus on “moving forward” rather than condemning the governor.
LePage’s Final “Apology”
On Wednesday morning, LePage met with Gattine for a few minutes to apologize, but Gattine told reporters afterwards that the governor still needs to step down. Following the brief meeting, LePage called a press conference, but banned certain newspaper reporters and TV reporters from the room. In a livestream video posted by WGME CBS 13, LePage reiterated his apology to the people of Maine and said he will be seeking “spiritual guidance.” The governor also stated unequivocally that he will not resign and denied allegations that he is an alcoholic or a drug addict and or has a mental illness.
“What I have is a back bone and I want to move Maine forward,” he added.
LePage went on to call on WMTW reporter David Charns to apologize. “After speaking with Representative Gattine, I think that the reporter that put the mic in my face owes the people of Maine an apology as well because [Gattine] never called me racist,” said LePage. “He said I made racially [sic] comments. Maybe in my mind it is semantics, but in his mind after talking to him, it was clear that there was a real difference there.”
The governor ended his press conference with a promise. “I will no longer speak to the press ever again after today,” he said, drawing some laughs. “I am serious. Everything will be put in writing. I am tired of being caught, the gotcha moments.”
And LePage still apparently believes that there's nothing problematic about repeatedly linking the opiate trade to people of color. Prior to the press conference, conservative talk show host Ray Richardson asked LePage why he's so focused on race. "Because all lives matter not just black lives," the governor replied. "That mean it's white people dying every day ... but the point is this notion is caught up on defending only one ethnic group. What about the people in Maine?"
Up to Voters Now
Following the latest media spectacle, Democratic leaders renewed their calls for LePage to step down. Thibodeau says he completely disagrees with House Republicans’ decision to give the governor a pass. However, he said he is “struggling” with what to do next because there are “limited options.” He said he would reach out to members of his caucus to figure out if the governor has met the expectations of their “corrective action” plan, but also stated that there “should be consequences.”
Meanwhile, with the November election just two months away, voters will have a chance to express themselves regardless of whether lawmakers take action. And Republicans are certainly in a tight spot as they campaign to attract moderate voters while maintaining the support of the diehard conservative base. For Fredette, all of the focus on the governor’s behavior is distracting voters from the “good work” that Republicans are doing.
“Because of the timing of this, we’re in an election cycle folks,” said Fredette. “We understand that and we need to be talking about the issues so that voters clearly understand what are the differences between Republicans and Democrats when we’re out there talking about the issues of welfare reform, personal income growth, income tax cuts, regulatory reform. Those are the things that we need to be out there talking about.”
Espling added that Republicans have a lot of “fantastic folks running for office” and said she “would hope that people would still be in that positive way and something of benefit to the state of Maine.”
But while House candidates are often in “safe” districts that are either solidly Democratic or Republican, for Thibodeau, who is facing a rematch with an opponent whom he defeated in 2014 by just 105 votes, handling this latest political crisis is a particularly challenging balancing act.
“I went out and did some doors just yesterday,” Thibodeau told reporters Wednesday. “I knocked on a door where the folks told me that they loved Paul LePage and his straight talk, but I’ll have to say that I knocked on several doors that said something has got to be done. So I think that all of these candidates are going to be getting feedback from their constituents and all of the senators will be getting feedback.”