July 10, 2012

LePage: 'Gestapo' clouded message

The governor's statement stops short of a public apology.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA - Gov. Paul LePage used his own editorial judgment when he described the IRS as the "new Gestapo" in his radio address last week.

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NOTABLE QUOTES FROM GOV. PAUL LEPAGE

“As your governor, you’re going to be seeing a lot of me on the front page saying, ‘Governor LePage tells Obama to go to hell.’ ”

Statement at lobstermen’s forum in Brooksville, Sept. 26, 2010

“Tell them they can kiss my butt.”

Statement to a reporter, in response to a question about his refusal to meet with the NAACP, Jan. 14, 2011

“The only thing that I’ve heard is if you take a plastic bottle and put it in the microwave and you heat it up, it gives off a chemical similar to estrogen. So the worst case is some women may have little beards ... and we don’t want that.”

Statement on a TV news show about Bisphenol-A, a chemical banned by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, February 2011

“The problem is the middle management of the state is about as corrupt as you can be. Believe me, we’re trying every day to get them to go to work, but it’s hard.”

Statement at a town hall meeting in Newport, April 27, 2012

“We the people have been told there is no choice. You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo – the IRS.”

Statement during radio address, July 7, 2012


 

But the governor acknowledged Monday that his reference to the Nazi secret police "clouded" his message about the federal health care law.

LePage's written statement stopped short of a public apology, which had been demanded by national and local Jewish groups. However, Emily Chaleff, director of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, said LePage called her to personally apologize for his remarks.

At the same time, LePage told WMTW-TV in an interview Monday: "It was never intended to offend anyone and if someone's offended, then they ought to be goddamned mad at the federal government."

Monday was the third day of a controversy that has drawn national media attention, over a comment that LePage added to his weekly radio address, which aired Saturday.

Adrienne Bennett, LePage's communications director, often writes the governor's radio message.

She wrote the address for last week, but said the governor inserted the "Gestapo" reference after she and the staff had finished editing it.

Bennett said the comment initiated a "healthy dialogue" among the staff, but remained in the prepared remarks when LePage recorded the address Friday. It was not ad-libbed during the recording.

Some of LePage's critics originally believed that the administration had approved the comment to spur opposition to the health care law, which divides the American public.

The governor said in Monday's written statement that it was not his "intent to insult anyone, especially the Jewish Community, or minimize the fact that millions of people were murdered."

He added, "Clearly, what has happened is that the use of the word Gestapo has clouded my message. Obamacare is forcing the American people to buy health insurance or else pay a tax."

The "Gestapo" comment was in reference to a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires Americans who aren't insured by their employers or Medicaid to buy health insurance or pay annual penalties when they file their tax returns.

The provision, known more broadly as the individual mandate, was the subject of a multistate lawsuit.

Maine was a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The mandate was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court late last month.

LePage said during his radio address that the court's ruling has "made America less free."

"We the people have been told there is no choice," he said. "You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo -- the IRS."

The Gestapo was Nazi Germany's secret police force under Adolf Hitler, who imprisoned and murdered millions of people during World War II.

Derrek L. Shulman, the Anti-Defamation League's New England regional director, said LePage's statement Monday was "disappointing and insufficient."

"The statement doesn't demonstrate an understanding or recognition that a comparison between a Nazi police force and a modern governmental agency has no place in modern politics or anywhere else," Shulman said. "It's absurd."

Maine House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said that while he would have chosen a different word, the uproar over the use of "Gestapo" is "much ado about nothing."

"Politicians from both sides of the aisle have invoked the word 'Gestapo' in the past to reference heavy-handed government tactics," Nutting said, adding that Democrats' protests of the governor's comments are "manufactured outrage" that "indicates to me that their party is desperately seeking a way to become relevant."

The response to LePage's comment has been as divided as the debate over the individual mandate. LePage has been attacked by Democrats but applauded by some online commenters and in email responses to a Portland Press Herald story.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: LePage's Gestapo comment

Do you think Gov. LePage should publicly apologize for likening the IRS to the Gestapo?

Yes

No

View Results