Gov. Paul LePage sent Republicans a statement late Friday apologizing for this month’s controversy over a comment he has been accused of making about President Obama.
The written statement, obtained by the Portland Press Herald, begins with LePage saying, “My fellow Republicans, I write to you to apologize for any difficulty that remarks recently reported in the press may have caused you.”
He goes on to say, “Let me be clear, I do not believe that President Obama dislikes any racial group.”
LePage makes no other reference to Obama in the statement. He does not deny making the comment, and blames newspapers for the controversy, saying they attack and mischaracterize what he says.
The comment in question came during a Maine Republican Party fundraiser on Aug. 12 at the home of John and Lisa Fortier of Belgrade. According to several people who attended, LePage said while speaking to the group that Obama “hates white people.”
Two Republican lawmakers confirmed to the Press Herald on Monday that they heard the governor make the comment. The Press Herald was the first to report it.
Both lawmakers 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. Others who attended the event told the Press Herald that they didn’t hear the comment.
In Friday’s statement to Republicans, LePage wrote, “Newspapers owned by politically motivated and powerful elitists relentlessly attack my every word and often mischaracterize my comments. They highlight negativity and partisan finger-pointing while putting important issues in the background — or they fail to report them at all.”
The “politically motivated and powerful elitists” in the statement is an apparent reference to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and her husband, financier S. Donald Sussman, a contributor to Democratic and charitable causes. Sussman is the majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which owns the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other media outlets in Maine.
Earlier this week, LePage denied that he made the comment. Speaking briefly to reporters at the State House on Wednesday, he said, “No, I never said that, and you guys are all about gossip,” according to video from WCSH-TV in Portland.
The controversy made headlines across the country during a relatively slow national news week, with Congress on its August holiday.
LePage was the subject of a profile in The New York Times, and his comments were discussed repeatedly on national news programs on networks such as CNN and MSNBC. In The New York Times story, LePage is described as making “startlingly blunt assertions” that “could add up to a major vulnerability” for the governor, who is facing re-election next year.
His controversial comments include:
• In September 2010, while running for governor, 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 of 2012, 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.”
In response to that comment, Republican state Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, wrote a scathing op-ed that appeared in the Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News in late June.
“As a lifelong, proud Republican who was overjoyed to see a Republican elected back into the Blaine House three years ago, I have one thing to say. I am embarrassed,” Katz wrote.
In his statement Friday, LePage said, “I grew up on the streets, where my first language was French, and I am not a polished speaker. I am plain-spoken, and I do not always use the correct wording while making a point. Yes, I can be blunt. But, as I have learned throughout my life, a person’s actions speak louder than their words. So let’s focus on the progress we are making to create jobs, improve the economy, reduce taxes and reform welfare. Working together, our actions will build a better Maine.”
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: