NORTH BERWICK — Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday night that more than 90 percent of drug dealers arrested in Maine since January are black or Hispanic, returning to an issue he raised that month in comments that were widely condemned.
The governor made the reference at a town hall forum in North Berwick. He was answering a question from audience member Andrew Ritchie, a businessman from New York who indicated he used to live in Maine.
“Given the rhetoric you put out there about people of color in Maine, calling them drug dealers et cetera, how can I bring a company here given the toxic environment you create?” Ritchie asked.
LePage responded that he keeps a dossier of photos from drug busts in Maine and that Ritchie was welcome to come and look at them.
“Let me tell you this, explain to you, 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,” LePage said. “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, Conn., the Bronx and Brooklyn.”
The exchange between Gov. LePage and Andrew Ritchie begins at the 51-minute mark of this audio:
Ritchie then suggested that one reason might be because Maine police are profiling people of color.
“There are a whole lot of white girls, too, a whole lot of white girls,” LePage said. “In fact, in almost every single picture is a white Maine girl in the picture.”
COMMENTS TRIGGER NEW CRITICISM
LePage’s comments were criticized by Rachel Healy, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
“White people are statistically more likely to sell drugs than black people, yet according to the governor, police in Maine are nine times more likely to arrest black people for doing so,” Healy said. “We don’t know what’s behind this disparity, but we look forward to working with the governor to end any unconstitutional racial profiling that may be occurring.”
House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, also released a statement criticizing the governor’s comments.
“I’m disgusted that Paul LePage came to my town to make racially charged comments that will do nothing more than divide our state,” Eves said. “If the governor is looking for something productive to do with his time, he should focus on ending Maine’s drug crisis by giving law enforcement the resources they need. . . . The governor and his administration, led by Mary Mayhew, have presided over the largest increase in drug use in Maine’s history and backed policies that worsen the crisis. Shame on him.”
In January, LePage told an audience in Bridgton, “These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty – these types of guys – they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road.”
GOVERNOR SAYS HE’S NOT A RACIST
On Wednesday, LePage said he was only suggesting that the heroin being sold in Maine is coming in from Connecticut and New York, and that he is not racist.
“I have helped many, many families, in fact, I even brought a black person into my family,” LePage said. “Nobody wants to give you the real story, but the fact of the matter is, sir, I am not a racist.”
“I didn’t call you a racist,” Ritchie responded. “I feel like you create an environment where racists feel comfortable speaking up.”
“I will in a heartbeat, if I see discrimination, if I see bullying, if I see domestic violence, I don’t care if you are white, black, it doesn’t make any difference, you will hear me speak up,” the governor responded.
LePage also repeated to the largely friendly audience his opposition to a slate of ballot questions facing voters this November, including measures that would legalize marijuana for recreational use, increase the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, add an additional 3 percent tax for education on households earning more than $200,000, create a ranked-choice voting system and require criminal background checks for private gun sales.
About 45 people attended the town hall meeting in the Noble High School auditorium.