July 14, 2012

Governor apologizes for use of 'Gestapo'

Gov. Paul LePage makes his public apology during his weekly radio address.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Seeking to end the week-long furor that he launched when he compared the Internal Revenue Service to the Gestapo, Gov. Paul LePage used his weekly radio address to offer an apology for his "insensitivity to the word."

Maine Gov. Paul LePage: "Never my intent to insult or to be hurtful to anyone, but rather express what can happen by overreaching government."

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Maine's blunt-speaking governor hopes his apology will end the uproar that began with last week's radio address, in which he described the IRS as the "new Gestapo" while criticizing President Obama's health care overhaul.

LePage's statement drew national attention and has been widely criticized by Democrats and Jewish leaders.

That criticism grew louder Friday. In a letter to the editor given to three Maine newspapers, the commissioner of the IRS described LePage's remarks as "extraordinarily offensive."

Commissioner Douglas Shulman said he is particularly distressed that LePage would attack public servants who are committed to doing their best for taxpayers. "Gov. LePage's comments are disturbing on so many levels," he wrote.

After comparing the IRS to the Nazi secret police last week, the governor backed away from his use of the word "Gestapo," but critics continued to express outrage.

The governor didn't help his cause Thursday in Vermont, when he told a reporter that the IRS isn't the Gestapo -- "yet." Seeking to put the controversy behind him, the governor met Friday with representatives from the Anti-Defamation League of New England and the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine.

Emily Chaleff, executive director of the alliance, said she appreciated the governor's apology during the closed-door meeting. She described LePage's apology as sincere, and said he listened attentively while she and others told him how the language he used was hurtful.

"He said he was very sorry for the hurt this statement had caused and that his intention was not to offend anybody," Chaleff said.

She said it was helpful to be able to meet with the governor and speak directly about each other's thoughts and concerns, rather than "speak through the media."

Also at the meeting were Derrek Shulman, director of the New England Region of the Anti-Defamation League, and three Portland-area residents, Sam Novick, Roz Bernstein and Doris Pollack.

According to a transcript of the radio address, which the administration provided to the media in advance, LePage said it was never his intention to insult or be hurtful to anyone, but he meant to express what can happen with "overreaching government."

"What happened last week, as a result of my radio address, was intended to shed more light on the tenuous situation Maine is facing," he said. "Instead, one word halted the conversation and spurred a flurry of unintended consequences.

"The acts of the Holocaust were nothing short of horrific. Millions of innocent people were murdered and I apologize for my insensitivity to the word and the offense some took to my comparison of the IRS and the Gestapo."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com

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