June 21, 2013

LePage draws fire for sexual remark

He says a legislator critical of his budget is 'the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline.'

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage made a crude sexual reference about a Democratic state senator in a television interview Thursday and said the lawmaker "has no brains" and "a black heart."

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Gov. Paul LePage speaks during a rally with conservative activists Thursday at the State House in Augusta. After the rally, he verbally attacked Democratic Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash, according to WMTW.

Joe Phelan / Staff Photographer

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Sen. Troy Jackson responds during a news conference to comments that Gov. Paul LePage made about him earlier in the day at the State House in Augusta.

Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal

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Referring to Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash, who gave his party's response to the Republican governor's latest budget proposal, LePage said: "Sen. Jackson claims to be for the people, but he's the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline."

Later in the interview, LePage said, "Dammit, that comment is not politically correct. But we've got to understand who this man is. This man is a bad person. He not only doesn't have a brain, he has a black heart. And so does the leadership" in the Legislature.

LePage's comments were reported in a story and video posted on the website of WMTW-TV in Portland.

He made the statements to WMTW reporter Paul Merrill after speaking during a rally with conservative activists in the State House Hall of Flags. The governor, who is trying to persuade lawmakers to reject a bipartisan budget compromise, rebutted Jackson's comments that the governor has been unwilling to negotiate with Democratic legislative leaders.

Merrill told the governor that his comment about Vaseline would offend some people, and LePage replied, "Good. It ought to, because I've been taking it for two years."

LePage also appeared to mock Jackson's rural background and his profession as a logger.

"People like Troy Jackson, they ought to go back in the woods and cut trees and let somebody with a brain come down here and do some work," LePage said.

Jackson said the governor's remarks didn't bother him, but he found them inappropriate.

"I think we can be disagreeable without making comments like that," Jackson said. "I just think it's unfortunate. He's supposed to be the leader of our state and he makes comments like that."

Jackson said he didn't care that the governor called him ignorant. Jackson acknowledged that his thick accent may lead some to think he's not intelligent, but he has conviction.

"Maybe I am a country bumpkin, but that doesn't bother me. Again, what's in my heart is good and I'm very comfortable with that," he said.

LePage's comments quickly became fodder for his prospective opponents in next year's gubernatorial election.

Eliot Cutler, an independent who plans to run, criticized the governor's comments in a Facebook post.

"Governor LePage's crass and offensive language, directed today at another elected official no less, denigrates the state's highest office and is an affront to all Maine citizens," Cutler wrote. "His crude language is an embarrassment that only serves to diminish Maine's reputation as a place of unrivaled beauty and decent, hardworking people. At the very least, he owes it to Maine people to conduct himself in a manner befitting the office he holds and the state he represents."

Cutler finished a close second to LePage in a three-way race in 2010.

Democratic U.S. Rep Mike Michaud, who announced last week that he was forming an exploratory committee for a gubernatorial run, referred to the Vaseline statement in a fundraising email sent Thursday afternoon.

"Let me just say that crude comments like these have no place in public discourse," Michaud's message read. "I am appalled. Troy Jackson is a dedicated public servant and hardworking Maine logger. These attacks are a sad reflection on our governor's commitment to working Maine people."

Other Democrats blasted the governor.

"We don't condone that on the schoolyard, we don't condone that at the kitchen table and surely we shouldn't condone that from our governor," said Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, the Senate majority leader.

"This sort of outrageous and obscene language has no place in state government," said House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. "Gov. LePage's language today crosses a new line -- even for him. I would not want my children to hear these vulgar comments from the highest official in our state on the evening news."

LePage is not the first elected official to refer to Vaseline in an off-color remark.

Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, made a similar reference during a floor debate on April 27, 2011, on a bill to give a tax credit to paper companies that contract Maine loggers.

"I work in an industry, a large industry, the paper industry, and many times when my company says to me 'trust me' what they are saying is, be ready for the Vaseline because not very good things are going to happen," Patrick said.

Patrick was ruled out of order by Republican Senate President Kevin Raye. Patrick apologized from the Senate floor.

Coincidentally, Patrick made his comment regarding a bill sponsored by Jackson. Not coincidentally, Jackson's job has played into a feisty relationship with the governor that extends beyond party differences.

Jackson has repeatedly proposed legislation designed to curb the hiring of Canadian loggers by paper companies. He has said the practice depresses wages and reduces jobs for Maine loggers.

LePage worked in management for several paper companies before becoming the general manager of Marden's Surplus and Salvage. The governor, along with the Maine Forest Products Council, an influential organization representing the state's paper industry, has fought Jackson's legislative efforts.

Democratic Gov. John Baldacci also vetoed a bill sponsored by Jackson.

On Thursday, Jackson referred to his professional tension with LePage, saying, "He's upper management, I'm working class.

"He's been advocating for foreign loggers to replace people like me," Jackson said.

After Democrats won majorities in the Legislature in 2012, Jackson submitted what many believed was a retaliatory bill that would have taken away LePage's state pension if he didn't win re-election in 2014. The bill was killed in committee.

LePage mentioned the pension bill in his comments to WMTW before referring to Jackson's profession.

"People like Troy Jackson, they ought to go back in the woods and cut trees and let somebody with a brain come down here and do some work," LePage said.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said LePage's comments were not appropriate for "a chief executive."

"The only comment I have is, my father worked in the woods and I have two brothers now making a living working in the woods," Fredette said.

-- Staff Writer Tom Bell contributed to this report.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

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Additional Photos

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Gov. Paul LePage speaks during a rally on Thursday June 20, 2013 in the Hall of Flags at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Gov. Paul LePage speaks during a rally on Thursday June 20, 2013 in the Hall of Flags at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

 


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