AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage came out Tuesday in support of reinstating capital punishment in Maine.

After starting his day with an apparent joking reference to using the guillotine to stage public executions of drug traffickers, he ended it by saying he believes in the death penalty for drug traffickers, criminals who invade homes and sexually assault the residents, and people convicted of murder.

“What we ought to do is bring the guillotine back,” LePage said during a morning interview on WVOM radio in Bangor. “We could have public executions.”

The Governor’s Office said the remark was just a joke to illustrate his support for tougher penalties for drug crimes.

On Tuesday night, LePage was asked whether he supported the death penalty, specifically using the guillotine, during a town hall meeting at Husson University in Bangor broadcast by WVII-TV.

“I talk about people dying (from drug overdoses) every day, but no one wants to hear that,” LePage told the audience. “When I talk about the death penalty everyone wants to protect the drug traffickers. I want to protect the people of Maine.”

The death penalty was abolished in Maine by the Legislature in 1887.

His comments about the guillotine, made just a few weeks after he made national headlines with a remark about drug traffickers coming to Maine and impregnating a young white girl before they leave the state, were picked up by several national media outlets, including CNN and The Washington Post.

“The only time Maine makes the national news is when the governor says something crazy like this,” said Democratic House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan.

McCabe said such remarks produce a “spectacle,” but do little to solve the issue of ending the drug epidemic.

Republican House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport didn’t respond to a call or email seeking comment Tuesday night.

LePage’s remarks about the death penalty came on the same day he announced on his weekly radio address that he will forgo the tradition of delivering a State of the State address to the Maine Legislature, opting instead to send lawmakers a letter.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the governor said he will “follow the historical precedent of sending a written message to the Legislature.”

“I would rather talk with Mainers at my town halls,” LePage said in his radio address. “The truth is, I’ve delivered the State of the State to legislators for five years – only to have it fall on deaf ears.”

Peter Steele, a spokesman for the governor, said the televised town hall wasn’t meant to replace the State of the State.

“No, this is just another of the governor’s weekly town halls,” Steele said. “The only difference is it is being televised so he can reach as many Mainers as possible.”

LePage’s appearance had been criticized because the Bangor event was closed to the media and was held before an invitation-only audience.

WVII-TV General Manager and Vice President Mike Palmer said the questions were not scripted and were selected by members of his news staff.

Craig Colson, the station’s news director and anchorman, moderated the town hall and apologized during the broadcast after the station’s website crashed. Colson said the site had problems because there were too many people trying to watch the broadcast. He said the show would air again Wednesday.

LePage had hinted several weeks ago that he would forgo the traditional speech in front of a Legislature he views as hostile to him and his policies.

The tough-talking governor cited his frustration with lawmakers – some of whom tried unsuccessfully to impeach him earlier this month – in announcing his plans to deliver a written message to the Legislature. The speech typically takes place around the beginning of February.

Maine’s Constitution leaves the timing and method of addressing the Legislature largely up to the governor, saying only that, “The governor shall from time to time give the Legislature information of the condition of the state, and recommend to their consideration such measures as the governor may judge expedient.”

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, sent a letter to LePage on Monday inviting him to deliver the State of the State early next month.

Eves on Tuesday was critical of the governor’s decision not to appear.

“As I’ve said before, the hard-working people of Maine show up to do their jobs and the governor should do his,” Eves said in a written statement.

In his radio address, the governor said voters don’t send elected leaders to Augusta “to play childish games,” and he reiterated his priorities of reforming welfare, lowering taxes and addressing the drug crisis.

“Last year, socialist legislators wasted more than six months of the taxpayers’ time and money on a political witch hunt,” said LePage, employing what has become a favorite new label for legislators who oppose him. “While Mainers were literally dropping dead from the drug crisis, these legislators were grandstanding for the cameras, hoping to score political points by attacking me.”

LePage appears to be referring to the investigation by a bipartisan legislative committee of his involvement in a nonprofit’s decision to withdraw a job offer to Eves. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives rejected a push by some lawmakers to begin an impeachment investigation of LePage earlier this month.

The annual State of the State is a relatively modern tradition. Previous governors have given the addresses at irregular intervals. Independent Gov. James Longley delivered State of the State addresses in 1977 and 1978, but the next wasn’t presented until 1983 by Gov. Joseph Brennan, a Democrat.