Gov. Paul LePage left a state lawmaker from Westbrook an expletive-laden phone message Thursday in which he accused the legislator of calling him a racist, encouraged him to make the message public and said, “I’m after you.”
LePage sent the message Thursday morning after a television reporter appeared to suggest that Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine was among several people who had called the governor a racist, which Gattine later denied. The exchange followed remarks the governor made in North Berwick on Wednesday night about the racial makeup of suspects arrested on drug trafficking charges in Maine.
“Mr. Gattine, this is Gov. Paul Richard LePage,” a recording of the governor’s phone message 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.”
Gov. LePage’s message to Rep. Drew Gattine. Warning: This audio contains obscenities.
LePage later invited a Portland Press Herald reporter and a two-person television crew from WMTW to the Blaine House, where during a 30-minute interview the governor described his anger with Gattine and others, told them he had left the phone message and said he wished he and the lawmaker could engage in an armed duel to settle the matter.
“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.”
Gattine is the House chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, which has opposed some of LePage’s welfare, drug enforcement and other reforms. He said the governor’s phone message was uncalled for.
“Obviously that message is upsetting, inappropriate and uncalled for,” Gattine said Thursday night. “It’s hard to believe it’s from the governor of the state of Maine, but again, we need to stay focused on the drug problem we are facing here in Maine and cannot allow this story to be about the governor’s inappropriate and vulgar behaviors.”
REPORTER’S QUESTION ENRAGES GOVERNOR
LePage left the message after a television reporter asked the governor what he would say to people who are calling him a racist. LePage asked who had called him that and the reporter said he had talked to Gattine, but didn’t say Gattine had called the governor a racist.
LePage then reacted, told the reporters “you make me so sick,” and stormed off.
He later called the same reporters to the Blaine House for an interview, told them he had called Gattine and said he hoped the lawmaker would make the governor’s phone message public. The Press Herald made a Freedom of Access Act request for the phone message, and Gattine provided a copy to the Press Herald around 8:50 p.m.
Gattine has been a longstanding critic of many of LePage’s proposals to reform the state’s welfare system and has blocked efforts by Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, to change eligibility requirements for a variety of programs that help individuals and families with developmental disabilities. Gattine is running for re-election in House District 34, which includes the city of Westbrook. He is unopposed.
Gattine said Thursday that he never called LePage a racist.
“What I said to the television reporter today is that the kind of racially charged comments the governor made are not at all helpful in solving what the real problem is,” Gattine said. “And that is, we have a crisis in the state of Maine of people overdosing on heroin and prescription drugs and we are not doing enough with respect to treatment and prevention.”
GATTINE: MORE EMPHASIS ON TREATMENT
Gattine said he essentially agrees with LePage that drug traffickers must be stopped from coming into the state.
“The law enforcement piece is incredibly important,” Gattine said. “And I don’t really care what the color is of the people that are importing drugs into this state. I think law enforcement needs to be in a position where it can do its job, but in an area where we are really failing is not funding treatment and prevention as much as we should be.”
Gattine noted that a record number of people, 272, died of drug overdoses in Maine last year and the state is on pace to break that record this year.
“And this administration continues to pursue policies that make treatment less available … and I think that’s a huge part of the problem,” Gattine said.
Over the years, Gattine and LePage have butted heads on several issues.
Gattine was among the Democratic lawmakers who earlier this year sparred with LePage over how to manage patients sent by the courts to the state’s Riverview Psychiatric Center. LePage threatened to stop accepting federal money unless the Legislature could figure out how to manage patients. Gattine replied, saying, “It shouldn’t be this hard. If the department (of Health and Human Services) is serious about this, they should be able to answer these questions.”
A HISTORY OF DISAGREEMENTS
After the federal government accused Maine in 2015 of processing food stamp applications slower than any other state, Gattine said the federal warning – the government said Maine’s “chronically poor performance” doesn’t meet federal standards – ripped the state, claiming it was part of a pattern in which the LePage administration repeatedly failed to adhere to federal guidelines. Gattine said people were not getting the services they need.
In a March 2015 guest column published by the Press Herald, Gattine slammed the LePage administration for proposed cuts to seniors’ health care. Gattine said the cuts would force elderly Mainers to choose between paying medical bills and buying groceries.
“It’s infuriating that people who contributed so much to Maine have to show up in Augusta to beg their government not to cut the health care benefits that they have worked on for their entire lives,” he said in the column.
LePage also has criticized Gattine and other lawmakers for opposing a measure that would have made possession of small amounts of heroin a felony. LePage has said the threat of a felony-level crime is necessary to force people to get into drug treatment programs.
“The primary lever for getting people into treatment shouldn’t be to get them into the criminal justice system,” Gattine said. “To me, if we let the problem get that far it’s just another sign of our failure.”