Gov. Paul LePage Called Out For Racially Profiling Drug Dealers, Threatening Lawmaker

By Paul Gaita 08/29/16

This past weekend, the Maine governor went on a racist tirade that resulted in state Democrats labeling him "erratic and disturbing and clearly unfit to lead" the state.

Gov. Paul LePage Called Out For Racially Profiling Drug Dealers, Threatening Lawmaker
Photo via CBS/YouTube

A string of inflammatory statements regarding race and the national drug epidemic have again landed Republican Governor Paul LePage of Maine in hot water with the press, his constituents and fellow legislators.

The latest round of gaffes began on August 24 when LePage responded to a question about demagogic comments he made about race—with equally insensitive comments—and culminated the following day in an expletive-laden tirade left on the voicemail of a state lawmaker whom LePage believed had labeled him as a racist. The governor went on to not only take credit for the voicemail, but also said that if it had been the 19th century, he would have settled the dispute with a duel. The governor later dismissed the comment as a “metaphor,” but his behavior spurred state Democrats to label him as “erratic and disturbing" and "clearly unfit to lead [Maine].”

LePage’s downward spiral began on August 24 at a town hall meeting in North Berwick, where LePage was questioned about the "toxic environment" he had created with statements about African Americans in Maine, and how that might impede new business growth in the state.

In January, LePage laid the blame on Maine’s problems with heroin on “guys with the names D-Money, Smoothie, Shiftie” who come to the state and sell heroin, but not before impregnating a “young white girl before they leave.” The comments were widely denounced in the press, most notably by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, which declared them “offensive and hurtful.”

LePage responded to the question by stating that he kept a “three-ring binder” of mugshots of all the drug dealers arrested in Maine, and “90-plus percent of those pictures in my book ... are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Connecticut, the Bronx and Brooklyn.” His statement drew swift condemnation from Democrats like House Speaker Mark Eves, who said that the governor “should focus on ending Maine’s drug crisis" through supporting law enforcement, educational efforts and “make treatment services with a proven track record of success available to Mainers suffering from addiction.” LePage’s tenure as governor has been marked by opposition to the opioid antagonist naloxone and funding cuts to substance abuse treatment, among other measures.

The following day, LePage angrily defended his statements to reporters outside of his office at the State House, declaring that “black people come up the highway and they kill Mainers.” When asked how he would respond to statements that he was a racist, LePage demanded to know who had called him that. A reporter then suggested that Democratic State Representative Drew Gattine was among several individuals who may have made such allegations, prompting LePage to storm off and then place a call to Gattine’s office. 

In the message, LePage angrily denies being a racist, demanding that Gattine “prove” that he has such beliefs and adds that he "spent my life helping black people" while also twice labeling the lawmaker with a homophobic slur. He ended the call by advising Gattine that he was “after [him].” LePage then called the reporters who had confronted him outside his office to his residence at the Blaine House, where he upped the ante on his rhetoric by stating that he had made the call to Gattine and wished it was 1825, because “we would have a duel. That’s how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be (Alexander) Hamilton. I would point it right between his eyes, because he is a snot-nosed little runt and he has not done a damn thing since he's been in this Legislature to help move the state forward.” Gattine has a history of opposing LePage’s budget cuts to welfare and seniors’ health care, among other issues. 

Gattine responded to the governor’s tirade by stating that he had not called LePage racist, but rather noted “the kind of racially charged comments the governor made are not at all helpful in solving what the real problem is. We have a crisis in the state of Maine of people overdosing on heroin and prescription drugs and we are not doing enough with respect to treatment and prevention.” In regard to the message left by LePage, he added, “Every time you think he’s crossed a line—you think he can’t go any further—but then he draws a different line, and he crosses it.” 

On Friday, August 26, LePage apologized for the voicemail, but added that his anger was justified over being called “the absolute worst, most vile thing you can call a person.” He also dismissed the intimations of violence made by his comments about a duel, declaring that “it was simply a metaphor and I meant no physical harm to Gattine.”

To the astonishment of many who attended the Friday press conference, LePage again invoked the idea that people of color were the source of the drug problems in his state. When asked if Maine police officers were conducting racial profiling, LePage denied the allegation before adding, “Look, a bad guy is a bad guy, I don’t care what color it is. When you go to war, if you know the enemy, the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, you shoot at red, don’t you? You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy. And the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority right now coming in are people of color or people of Hispanic origin. I can’t help that. Those are the facts.”

Fallout from the call and his subsequent comments spared no quarter in condemning LePage. “Gov. LePage’s direct threat against Rep. Gattine is both erratic and disturbing, and he is clearly unfit to lead our state,” wrote Democratic Chairman Phil Bartlett in a statement. “Not only did the governor blatantly say he would take violent action against a sitting lawmaker, he also twice invoked a homophobic slur to drive home his point. Those reckless remarks may incite others to violence ... Paul LePage is an increasingly menacing figure who does not reflect the values of our state.” The Press Herald/Telegram has also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to review the governor’s binder.

On Saturday, best-selling author Stephen King, a famous Maine native, tweeted, "Our governor, Paul LePage, is a bigot, a homophobe, and a racist. I think that about covers it."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.