Maine governor mulls political future amid racism flap
By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) – (Editor’s note: This story contains language that may offend some readers in the sixth and final paragraphs adds no comment from Gattine spokesman)
Combative Maine Governor Paul LePage told a radio host on Tuesday that he was considering not finishing his term in office, amid a wave of criticism after he left a lawmaker a profanity-filled voicemail.
But the two-term, Tea Party-backed Republican governor subsequently appeared to backtrack on the idea, paraphrasing Mark Twain in a tweet that read in part: “The reports of my political demise are greatly exaggerated.”
That message came hours after he told an interviewer on Maine’s WVOM-FM radio that he was “looking at all options,” when asked if he would finish his term, which extends through 2018.
LePage’s latest outburst came in response to a report that state Representative Drew Gattine had described him as racist for focusing on black people as bearing primary responsibility for the drug trade in the state. LePage responded to Gattine with a blistering, profanity-laced voicemail that has been widely circulated.
“I’m not going to say that I’m not going to finish it; I’m not saying that I am going to finish it,” LePage said on Tuesday in the radio interview, in reference to his term in office. “What I’m going to do right now is I’m taking one step at a time. I want to meet with Mr. Gattine and then I want to meet with my team at my office and we’re going to look at what the proper steps are to move the state forward.”
In last week’s voicemail, LePage called Gattine a “little son-of-a-bitch, socialist cocksucker” and encouraged him to share the message publicly “because I am after you.”
A LePage spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request to clarify the governor’s Twain tweet. A spokeswoman for Gattine said he would not comment until after he met LePage on Wednesday.
LePage has repeatedly described himself as a less-than-polished, plain-speaking politician.
“It’s possible it was a screw-up,” said Michael Franz, chairman of the government department at Maine’s Bowdoin College, referring to the radio interview.
“My first inclination is that this is not serious and that he’s just attempting to establish his regret.”
APOLOGY TO MAINE, FAMILIES
LePage, 67, said he had lost his temper when he was told that Gattine had described his views as racist. He told reporters he would like to engage in a duel with Gattine, a remark he later described as metaphoric.
“I just want to apologize to the Maine people, to Gattine’s family and most of all to my family,” LePage said in the 15-minute interview. “And we will take action.”
Some Democratic lawmakers have called for a special session of the legislature to censure LePage, who earlier this year fought off an impeachment effort.
“A half-hearted, partial apology on a radio show does not get remotely close to addressing the core issue: Maine faces serious issues and its government is not functioning,” the state’s Democratic House leadership said in a statement on Tuesday.
State Senate President Michael Thibodeau and other Republican legislative leaders convened a closed-door meeting with LePage late on Monday to discuss his future.
The governor told the group he was going to talk to friends and family about what he would do next and respond to them on Tuesday, said Jim Cyr, a spokesman for Thibodeau.
Controversial outbursts have marked LePage’s six years in office. Earlier this year, he said he did not mean to sound racist when he said drug dealers “with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” were coming to the state to impregnate “white girls.”
Last week at a news conference LePage compared Maine’s efforts to thwart heroin dealers to war.
“Look, the bad guy is the bad guy,” he said. “I don’t care what color he is … You try to identify the enemy and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”
In 2013, he told a television interviewer that a political rival “claims to be for the people but he’s the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline.”
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott and Dan Grebler)