Gov. Paul LePage denied Tuesday that he said during a private fundraiser last week that President Obama “hates white people.”
Speaking briefly to reporters at the State House, LePage was asked about the allegation and said, “No, I never said that, and you guys are all about gossip,” according to video from WCSH-TV in Portland.
Two Republican lawmakers confirmed Monday that they heard the governor make the comment during a Maine Republican Party fundraiser Aug. 12 at the home of John and Lisa Fortier of Belgrade.
Both said the governor made the comment during informal remarks to about 60 people. They 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.
Both lawmakers asked that their names be withheld because they are concerned about political retribution. On Tuesday, they stood by their statements despite the governor’s denial.
Two additional sources — a member of a Republican county committee who attended the event and a Republican operative who talked to several attendees — confirmed Tuesday that the governor made the comment.
The controversy has spread quickly nationwide. The talk radio station WGAN-AM in South Portland spent most of Tuesday morning discussing it. Many national news websites and political blogs have picked up the story. CNN and MSNBC each devoted several minutes Tuesday to LePage’s alleged comments.
Many other people who attended the fundraiser have said they did not hear the governor say those words, but no one has denied it except LePage.
Brent Littlefield, the governor’s senior political adviser, told the Portland Press Herald on Monday that he was not at the event.
“It seems farfetched for anyone, even a newspaper, to make an insinuation the governor is racist given his life history,” Littlefield said in an emailed statement after the initial story was posted online.
Littlefield was referring to Devon Raymond Jr., a Jamaica-born man whom LePage and his wife cared for while he attended high school in Maine.
Littlefield spent 10 minutes Tuesday on “The WGAN Morning News with Ken and Mike” discussing the allegations.
He was asked repeatedly if he ever asked the governor directly whether he made the comment. Littlefield refused to answer the question and instead criticized the media.
He also suggested that the two sources who spoke to the Press Herald are motivated to help two of LePage’s opponents in next year’s election, Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.
Littlefield and the governor’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, did not respond Tuesday to requests for additional comment.
Others have condemned LePage’s latest statement.
Senate President Justin Alfond, a Democrat from Portland, said, “The governor’s comments are shameful. Their only purpose is to fester hate and divide people. … This is a further embarrassment to the people of Maine. His remarks do not reflect who we are as Mainers and what we believe.”
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said, in an email to supporters, “Paul LePage’s derogatory and disrespectful comments about the President are just another sad chapter in the story of this administration. How many more embarrassments are we going to have to endure from the man who is supposed to be the leader of our state?”
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.”
Rachel Talbot Ross, executive director of the Portland chapter of the NAACP, said she doesn’t believe the governor is racist, but she is troubled by the latest comment.
“I don’t know what is in his heart,” she said. “But his pattern of comments does suggest that he has some prejudices that need attention.”
Ross said the people of Maine have had to endure too much “bullying and bigotry” from the governor.
“He uses race and lifestyle choices as punch lines, and it only highlights how outdated his brand of leadership is,” she said.
Dean Scontras, a Republican who has supported the governor, sent a message on Twitter saying that LePage should resign for the remark.
The White House has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Kevin Kelley, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who is supporting LePage’s re-election bid, said, “Senator Collins was not at the event and did not hear the comment the Governor is alleged to have made.
“To be clear, however, Senator Collins does not believe President Obama hates white people, nor does she believe he is racist,” Kelley said.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org