Gov. Paul LePage told a group of Republicans last week that President Obama “hates white people,” according to two state lawmakers who say they heard the remark directly.
The governor made the comment during a Maine Republican Party fundraiser on Aug. 12 at the home of John and Linda Fortier in Belgrade. According to the invitation, the fundraiser was a “meet and greet” for LePage and first lady Ann LePage, and an opportunity to meet Rick Bennett, the new party chairman.
The lawmakers, both Republicans, confirmed the comment when asked by a Portland Press Herald reporter but asked that their names be withheld for fear of political retribution.
Each said LePage talked about how Obama could have been the best president ever if he had highlighted his biracial heritage. LePage said the president hasn’t done that because he hates white people.
“Yeah, he said it,” said one of the lawmakers. “It was one little thing from a speech, but I think most people there thought it was totally inappropriate.”
Bennett, who was elected in July to succeed Richard Cebra as Maine Republican Party chairman, did not return multiple calls for comment about the story Monday.
Two other lawmakers who attended the event – Reps. Alex Willette of Mapleton and Larry Dunphy of Embden – said that if LePage made the comment, they didn’t hear it.
“I didn’t hear him say anything like that,” said Willette, who added that he spent most of the event trying to raise money for his candidacy for the 2nd Congressional District seat.
Dunphy said the governor made some brief, informal remarks but he doesn’t remember hearing anything about the president hating white people.
Peter Steele, the governor’s director of communications, said he couldn’t comment because the fundraiser was not official business. He referred questions to Brent Littlefield, the governor’s senior political adviser, who initially wouldn’t comment and was not at the event.
After the governor’s remark was reported in the media, Littlefield issued a statement that said, in part, “It seems farfetched for anyone, even a newspaper, to make an insinuation the governor is racist given his life history.”
The statement makes reference to Devon Raymond Jr., a Jamaica-born man whom the LePages cared for while he attended high school in Maine: “(LePage) and his family made a choice and sacrifice when they offered Devon the opportunity to join their family many years ago. Paul and Ann call him their son. Paul LePage recognized many people helped him make it out of poverty and he has been determined to help others succeed.”
The statement also referred to LePage’s years of participating in the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast in Waterville.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Maine is one of the least racially diverse states, with a black population estimated at 1.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census.
One of the lawmakers who confirmed LePage’s comment said he supports the governor’s policies but is tired of being asked to defend controversial statements.
LePage has a history of making inflammatory comments that have sometimes overshadowed his policy achievements.
• In September 2010, before he was elected, he told a group of fishermen at a forum: “As your governor, you’re going to be seeing a lot of me on the front page, saying ‘Governor LePage tells Obama to go to hell.'”
• In January 2011, shortly after he was sworn in, he declined an invitation to an event hosted by the NAACP in Portland. When asked what he would tell the group if it questioned his decision, LePage replied, “Tell them to kiss my butt.”
• In July last year, he compared the Internal Revenue Service to the Gestapo, the Nazi police.
• In June of this year, he said Maine Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson would be “the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline.”
If the governor did in fact say that Obama hates white people, it would top the governor’s list, said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine.
“It’s a ludicrous comment,” he said. “But does it hurt him? Given that it’s Paul LePage, I don’t necessarily think so. There will be a big uproar from some, but the general reaction will be, ‘There he goes again.'”
Even though the public has been desensitized by LePage’s many controversial statements, Brewer said, the governor “shouldn’t get a pass.”
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org