AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage denounced the Maine media Thursday, accusing reporters of spreading false information when they told readers and viewers that he had threatened to leave the state for 10 days and go on vacation in the midst of a state government shutdown earlier this week.

But a voicemail obtained by the Portland Press Herald under a public records request from a Republican state senator shows that LePage did indeed say he was leaving Augusta.

“I’m heading out of town for about 10 days and I would like to speak to you before I leave,” LePage says in the message to Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta. According to the time stamp on the voicemail, LePage called Katz at 9:05 a.m. Monday. Less than 24 hours later, the governor told reporters at a State House news conference that he never said he was going on vacation, but that his pen was on vacation.

When reporters asked if he said he was going on vacation, LePage responded with a laugh, saying, “No, my pen was on vacation until tonight. People don’t listen. I said, ‘My pen’s on vacation, I have nothing to do.’ And that meant that I was on vacation.”

LePage repeated that story Thursday morning as he spoke with WGAN radio talk show host Matt Gagnon, a LePage admirer who introduced the governor as a “conquering hero.”

LePage also told Gagnon and the show’s guest co-host, Portland City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, that he spends time trying to mislead the Maine media.

“I just love to sit in my office and make up ways so they’ll write these stupid stories,” LePage said. “They are just so stupid it’s awful. I tell you, the sooner the print press goes away, the better society will be.”

Katz declined to comment on LePage presenting falsehoods to the media and lying to him and the public, but he said he was concerned about LePage’s attack on a free press.

“The governor’s suggestion that society would be better off without a free press ought to scare the hell out of anyone even vaguely familiar with history,” Katz said in a prepared statement that he also posted on Facebook.

A former two-term mayor of Augusta, Katz is a moderate Republican who frequently clashes with LePage and is serving his fourth term in the Senate. He chairs the Government Oversight Committee and serves on the Appropriations and Health and Human Services committees.

Krysta West, a spokeswoman for Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said Thibodeau also spoke to LePage on Monday morning and the governor likewise told Thibodeau that he would be leaving town for 10 days.

Thibodeau was unavailable for comment Thursday because he actually is on vacation, West said.

LePage’s office did not respond to a request for a clarification or a comment, but a post on his Facebook page Thursday night offered a new explanation for the phone calls.

“Over this past weekend, during budget negotiations, Governor LePage was attempting to get senators to return his call during the midst of the negotiations,” the post said. “He wanted to make it clear when speaking with folks that he would not sign a budget which increased taxes on the Maine people and small businesses.

“When media contacted the governor’s office regarding a vacation, the office was 100% accurate and clear that the governor was not taking a vacation.”

Thursday was not the first time in his 6½ years in office that LePage misrepresented facts or attacked the media. He has previously falsely claimed that the majority of those charged with drug trafficking crimes in Maine were “blacks or Hispanics.”

LePage told a town hall audience in September of 2016 that he had a three-ring binder with booking mugshots that proved his point and that 90 percent of those charged with trafficking were black or Hispanic. But when the binder was reviewed, also under a public records request, the Press Herald found that only 40 percent of those in LePage’s scrapbook were black or Hispanic, and the majority were white.

LePage also has repeatedly called immigrants who have been legally admitted to the U.S. while seeking political asylum “illegal immigrants.” In addition, he has falsely claimed the same asylum-seeking immigrants were responsible for bringing a host of diseases to the state, including “hepatitis C, tuberculosis, AIDS, HIV and the ziki fly,” a reference to the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

In May 2016, LePage claimed a student at Deering High School in Portland had been given a shot of the opioid overdose antidote Narcan three times in one week. “And the third one, he got up and went to class. He didn’t go to the hospital. He didn’t get checked out. He was so used to it he just came out of it and went to class,” LePage said.

The school’s principal and the district’s superintendent both refuted the story. The principal said the school didn’t even have Narcan on hand. The superintendent simply said the governor’s story wasn’t true.

“Unequivocally, no. This did not happen at Deering High School,” then-acting Superintendent Jeanne Crocker said. “With respect to the governor saying that this happened at Deering High School, that is incorrect.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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