Forrest Butler moved from New York City to Brunswick with his wife four years ago. He wanted to relocate his business and start a family in a place far removed from the metropolitan frenzy.

Butler said it’s hard sometimes being a black man in an overwhelmingly white state, and he has become increasingly discouraged by the tone that’s been set by Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

Last week, the governor said during a town hall forum that heroin dealers arrested in Maine are overwhelmingly black or Hispanic, even though statistics don’t support that contention. He defended those comments for several days, and even expanded on them, as criticism mounted about why he brought race into the discussion about Maine’s drug epidemic in the first place.

“I feel as if I need to wear a T-shirt that says I’m not a drug dealer,” Butler said Thursday. “I’m a business owner, a homeowner, I have two children who are biracial. I moved to your state because it’s gorgeous and great for families.

“The governor’s comments (about race) are so hurtful and so disgusting that I want to laugh, but it’s too serious to laugh about.”

LePage’s statements about the race of drug dealers were described as “racially charged” by a Westbrook lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine. LePage interpreted Gattine’s statement as an accusation that he was a racist, which prompted him to leave a threatening and obscene voice mail on Gattine’s cellphone last week.

LePage has apologized to Gattine and the public, but in a meeting with reporters he said he would not resign, and he explained his extreme sensitivity to the suggestion that he is racist by referring to his family history.

He referenced a young Jamaican man named Devon Raymond Jr. who came to live with his family in 2002 and whom he considers a son, and said there have been other minority families who have lived with his family.

But Butler said having an adopted black son or a black friend or a black co-worker doesn’t absolve LePage of his racial insensitivity. He said the governor still hasn’t acknowledged the impact his words have had on race relations.

“He does not understand the weight or the gravity of his words at all,” Butler said. “He’s spreading fear and perpetuating attitudes that put people of color in a dangerous place. It scares me a little that more people aren’t troubled by this.”

‘A SYSTEM THAT DEHUMANIZES’

Shay Stewart-Bouley, a Maine resident who runs a Boston-based nonprofit that challenges systemic racism and writes a blog called “Black Girl in Maine,” agreed that the governor does not understand his role in shaping the conversation.

“Racism is rooted in power and privilege and white men hold power and privilege,” she said. “You can care about a person of color and still participate in a system that dehumanizes people of color.”

The events of the last week have added to the governor’s checkered history on matters of race since he’s been in office.

He often talks with pride about taking in Raymond and how he has become like a son. During an interview with reporters last week he described helping a Somali woman who had come to his office seeking assistance. And in an interview this week, LePage said being told last week that a Democratic representative might have called him a racist made him so angry he couldn’t breathe.

But LePage also has a history of making public statements, going back long before last week, that have drawn criticism and raised questions about his attitudes toward race. Even Republicans are challenging the governor’s comments as racially insensitive.

Meredith Strang-Burgess of Cumberland, a former state representative, said the governor has to make amends for those comments.

“I don’t know what’s in his heart, but I think he doesn’t yet understand how offensive his remarks may have been taken by different audiences,” she said.

HAS FAILED TO RETRACT COMMENTS

After first making the claim during a town hall meeting in North Berwick last week that those arrested for heroin trafficking in Maine were overwhelmingly black, LePage has tried to explain himself several times.

In a brief exchange with reporters outside his office the day after the town hall, LePage said, “Black people come up the highway and they kill Mainers. You ought to look into that.”

LePage invited reporters to the Blaine House a short time later and doubled downed on the race comments. He even said he started keeping a three-ring binder of drug dealers to support claims he made back in January that men with names such as “D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” bring heroin into Maine and “half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave.”

“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, Connecticut, the Bronx and Brooklyn.”

The next day, in another meeting with reporters, LePage was asked again to explain why he focused on the race of drug dealers. He used a war metaphor to make his point.

“Look, the bad guy is the bad guy, I don’t care what color he is,” he 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, who serves as a military lawyer in the Maine Air National Guard and sat in on the news 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.”

A couple from Farmington, Yvette and Robert McDonnell, have produced a video they hope will be seen by the governor. It’s called, “We are not the enemy, LePage.”

LePage’s staff has faulted the media for failing to note that when he talks about the number of black and Hispanic drug dealers who have been arrested, LePage is referring specifically to dealers in heroin rather than methamphetamines, which are most often distributed by whites in Maine. But the governor has yet to say why he even mentioned race at all. The closest he has come to contrition was during a radio interview Wednesday morning with conservative talk show host Ray Richardson, who pressed LePage about focusing on race when talking about the drug crisis.

“Why does the color of drug dealers matter?” the host asked.

“Because all lives matter, not just black lives,” LePage said. “It’s white people dying every day … but the point is this notion is caught up on defending only one ethnic group. What about the people in Maine?”

Richardson pushed harder.

“If (race) doesn’t matter, why bring it up?” he asked.

“It’s a good point,” LePage said finally. “Go back to what my wife says, ‘You’re brutally honest and sometimes it hurts.’ But it’s the truth.”

Stewart-Bouley said the governor has failed in every opportunity over the last week to retract his comments.

“At this point, we know when people say all lives matter, that’s hate speech,” she said. “Black lives matter has never been meant to be only black lives matter. This is a man who’s deeply uncomfortable talking about race.”

MANY SAY HE’S CROSSED A LINE

Last week wasn’t the first time the governor has offended people of color.

In 2011, shortly after he first took office, he declined an invitation by the NAACP to attend a Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast. LePage initially said he had a scheduling conflict, but later said he declined because the NAACP had previously invited him to a forum to speak to inmates. The governor said the forum was only for black inmates so he declined. But Rachel Talbot Ross, the local NAACP president, said that never happened. The forum was to include all inmates.

In 2013, LePage was speaking to group of Republicans at a fundraiser when he made the comment that President Obama “hates white people.”

The governor denied using those words, but several people who attended the event said he did. One of them was Ryan Morgan, a Franklin County Republican Committee member who said LePage’s focus on race when talking about the drug war is damaging to the party and to the state’s efforts to combat the crisis.

After making his comments in January about men with names such as “D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” bringing heroin into Maine, the governor denied that he was talking about black people, even though he brought up race when he said the drug dealers impregnate white girls.

A month later, LePage admitted it.

“I had to go screaming at the top of my lungs about black dealers coming in and doing the things that they are doing to our state,” he said during a radio interview.

Even amid that controversy, LePage made additional insensitive remarks. During a business breakfast in Lewiston in February, he pretended to sneeze while saying the name of a Chinese investor. Two months later, in April, he disparaged the accents of foreign workers.

Despite what the governor has said in the past, many believe his latest remarks have crossed the line.

LePage, for his part, has not apologized for making racially charged comments and said Wednesday that he doesn’t believe he did.

“Being called a racist is very, very sensitive to me,” he said, turning around in his office chair to point to a picture of Raymond, a young Jamaican man who the governor says is an adopted son. “Not just because we have brought several young minorities to live in our home, but we’ve helped a lot of minorities though our life and it’s been a great sacrifice to my family.”

WHAT SHOULD THE GOVERNOR DO?

Asked Thursday about the LePages’ history helping minorities, Peter Steele, the governor’s communications director, said he needed more time to provide information.

The Rev. Effie McClain of the United Methodist Church of Oakland said she wasn’t comfortable characterizing the governor’s thoughts on people of color. But she said as a woman of color that when someone goes out of their way to defend themselves against calls that they are racist or says things like, “I have a black friend,” it’s a red flag.

“When you have to point that out, it’s a problem,” she said.

Asked what LePage could do going forward, Stewart-Bouley was not optimistic the governor will change, but she said any outreach would be welcome.

“It would be great if he considered sitting down with people of color,” she said. “I’d like to talk with him. I’d like him to explain his words.”

She also said he would do well to attend events like the community conversation on racism and diversity that was held in Portland Thursday night.

“It would be great if he showed up at some things like this,” she said. “What we’ve seen from Gov. LePage is clearly a pattern. He needs to break that and be intentional about it.”

Butler said he, too, would love to have lunch with the governor and discuss race.

Strang-Burgess, the former state representative from Cumberland, said the fact that Republicans are joining the chorus in challenging LePage could lead him to make changes.

“He can’t continue this,” she said. “Whether he chooses to listen will be the test.”

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