Gov. Paul LePage used the familiar metaphor of war Friday to describe Maine’s efforts to curb drug addiction, but he once again framed the battle in racial terms and effectively endorsed racial profiling of suspected drug dealers.
Also Friday, leading state Democrats called on the governor to resign or seek professional help, a day after he left a profanity-laced message on the phone of a Westbrook legislator.
In a State House press conference, the governor restated previous comments about the numbers of black and Hispanic drug dealers who are bringing heroin into Maine and likened them to the enemy in a war.
“Look, the bad guy is the bad guy, I don’t care what color he is,” LePage said. “When you go to war, if you know the enemy and the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, then you shoot at red.”
LePage then turned to House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, an officer who serves as a military lawyer in the Maine Air National Guard and sat in on the press conference. “Don’t you – Ken (Fredette) you’ve been in uniform? You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”
The governor met with reporters to explain statements he has made about drugs and race dating back to January, when he said in a town hall meeting in Bridgton that dealers from Connecticut and New York bring drugs to Maine and “impregnate a young white girl before they leave.”
Edited video below. Watch the full video.
LePage returned to the theme of race Wednesday night at a town hall meeting in North Berwick, where he said that he has compiled a three-ring binder of photos of drug dealers arrested since January, and that more than 90 percent are black or Hispanic.
“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.”
The ACLU of Maine said this week that statistics show white people are more likely to sell drugs than black people.
“According to the governor, Maine police are nine times more likely to arrest people of color for selling drugs than white people, even though we know white people are just as likely to commit drug offenses. This alarming disparity in arrests raises significant concerns that Maine law enforcement is participating in unconstitutional racial profiling,” said the ACLU’s Maine executive director, Alison Beyea, said in a prepared statement.
According to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Service, 1,211 people in Maine were arrested on charges of drug sales or manufacturing in 2014. Of them, 170 – 14.1 percent – were black, and almost all the rest were white, the service said.
On Thursday, a television reporter appeared to suggest to LePage during a brief interview that Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, was among several people who had called him a racist. That prompted LePage to leave a profanity-laced and threatening voicemail on Gattine’s cellphone.
Top Democrats called on the governor Friday to resign or seek professional help because of that message, and subsequent statements LePage made about Gattine in a meeting with reporters.
Video: News conference with Reps. Gattine and Gideon.
“We strongly and regretfully feel that he is unfit to serve as governor of the state of Maine right now,” said Rep. Sara Gideon of Freeport, the assistant House Democratic leader. “We have real concerns and reservations about how we move forward together as lawmakers as well as Maine people.”
The city of Westbrook released an “open letter to the people of Maine” Friday that also condemned the governor’s conduct.
“Once more Governor LePage has humiliated himself and the Office of Governor,” the letter says.
“LePage’s voice mail to Representative Gattine is so outrageous it is beyond our ability to know how to respond,” the letter continues. “His threat to want to ‘shoot him between the eyes’ would be reprehensible coming from anybody, but from the individual holding the position of Governor of our State is insanity.”
The letter is signed by Mayor Colleen Hilton and two other city officials.
But LePage, speaking to reporters Friday at the State House as the story was being picked up by national media outlets, did not apologize to Gattine directly and said he was only responding to Gattine calling him a racist.
“I apologize for that to the people of Maine, but I make no apology for trying to end the drug epidemic that is ravaging our state,” he said. “Legislators like Gattine would rather be politically correct and protect ruthless drug dealers than work with me to stop this crisis that is killing five Mainers a week. … I’m not shying away from what I called him, because everything that came out of my mouth, everything I said to that man is less insulting than being called a racist, in my mind.”
GOVERNOR’S THREE-RING BINDER
LePage on Friday also produced the three-ring binder he referred to during the North Berwick meeting, with press clippings and press releases along with photos from drug arrests in Maine.
Displaying one page with a photo of a young white woman, he said, “A very lovely young Mainer, maybe 20 years old.” He then held up another page with a photo of a young black man on it and said, “And that’s the other culprit.” LePage noted that the binder had both white and black people in it, adding that most of the white people were from methamphetamine lab arrests, and most of the black people were from heroin arrests. When asked by a reporter why the race of the individuals matters, LePage said it doesn’t.
“My whole point is to make the point, it’s the out-of-state people,” LePage said. “I don’t care if they are Russian, I don’t care if they are black, I don’t care if they are Hispanic, I don’t care if they are Asian, I don’t care if they are French – and I am French. … I have no respect for those people that would sell heroin to the people in the state of Maine.”
Friday’s dueling press conferences – one by LePage, the other by Gideon and Gattine – came at a head-turning pace amid widespread condemnation of the governor’s actions this week. LePage has increasingly been focusing on the race of drug dealers as he has talked about the epidemic that has resulted in a record number of overdose deaths.
Gattine was among many who criticized the governor for injecting race into the conversation, but the representative said he never called the governor a racist.
LePage left this message Thursday on Gattine’s voicemail:
“Mr. Gattine, this is Gov. Paul Richard LePage,” a recording of the governor’s phone message to Gattine says. “I would like to talk to you about your comments about my being a racist, you (expletive). I want to talk to you. I want you to prove that I’m a racist. I’ve spent my life helping black people and you little son-of-a-bitch, socialist (expletive). You … I need you to, just friggin. I want you to record this and make it public because I am after you. Thank you.”
The governor later told reporters about the message and said he hoped Gattine would release it to the public. He then made another threatening comment toward Gattine.
“When a snot-nosed little guy from Westbrook calls me a racist, now I’d like him to come up here because, tell you right now, I wish it were 1825,” LePage said. “And we would have a duel, that’s how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be (Alexander) Hamilton. I would point it right between his eyes, because he is a snot-nosed little runt and he has not done a damn thing since he’s been in this Legislature to help move the state forward.”
Hear LePage’s comment about engaging in a duel.
But on Friday, LePage said he intended the message for Gattine’s ears only, a reversal of what he said on the recording and what he told reporters a day earlier.
LePage also said he isn’t going to resign and, when asked if he is emotionally stable enough to govern, if he has “a grip,” said he does.
“I have a grip,” LePage said. “No, I’m not going to resign because that’s what they would love to have me to do. I will resign if Gattine resigns and gives up his ability to ever call any white person or any human being a racist, because the only people that call other people a racist are those that have it on their minds.”
LePage later said he would resign if a whole list of lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican resigned and vowed never to run for public office again. But LePage did not say who is on his list.
GATTINE: ‘I’M GOING TO BE CAREFUL’
Gattine, speaking at the Democrats’ press conference Friday, said the voicemail from the governor was “stunning.”
“Less than 24 hours ago this governor left an incredibly violent sounding and ugly message,” he said. “When I got that message, my first thought was that I was really glad that wasn’t in the room with him when he left it because he really sounded like somebody who was about to commit physical violence.”
Gattine, the House chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, has frequently clashed with LePage on such issues as welfare, drug enforcement, problems at the Riverview Psychiatric Center and other reforms sought by the governor.
Gattine said he has spoken with Westbrook police and state Attorney General Janet Mills about whether LePage’s threats were criminal. He said he’s concerned for his safety.
“I’m going to be careful … but I’m not going to let the governor stop me from speaking out,” Gattine said.
Gideon said she’s less concerned about the governor and more concerned about his words inciting others.
“It’s not that we think that the governor is going to come out ready for a duel necessarily, but what his words bring other people to do,” she said.
STATE, FEDERAL LAWMAKERS WEIGH IN
Democrats, and some Republicans, said the governor – who has a long history of making inflammatory comments – went too far.
Sen. Roger Katz, a Republican from Augusta who frequently clashes with LePage, strongly condemned the governor in a Facebook post Friday.
“In one 24 hour period, the governor has made racially insensitive comments, insulted the grieving father of an American war hero (referring to comments LePage made on a radio program about Khzir Kahn), and obscenely threatened one of my colleagues in the legislature,” Katz wrote. “It’s a new world record. And none of it helps us solve any of the problems our state is facing.”
Sen. David Woodsome, a Republican from North Waterboro, posted a link to a Portland Press Herald story with this comment: “This deeply saddens and upsets me. The Governor has jumped off the cliff of professionalism and personal stability.”
House Republican leader Fredette and Senate President Mike Thibodeau issued more measured calls for civility, with Thibodeau urging the governor to apologize for his statements.
Maine’s 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree was also critical of LePage on Friday, calling his remarks, “sad and embarrassing.”
“This kind of angry, hate-filled speech has no place in politics or public policy and it’s shocking that the top elected official in our state would use such language,” Pingree said in a prepared statement. “We have seen the steady loss of civility in politics at a national level, and it is sad and embarrassing that our own Governor is contributing to that troubling trend. We face some serious problems in this country and this state and they deserve serious discussions, not obscenity-laden threats from a public official.”
U.S. Sen Susan Collins issued a statement in response to a request for comment.
“The Governor’s language was inappropriate, and I’m glad he has apologized,” she said.