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Responding to Calls for Resignation, LePage Says ‘I’m Going to Win This Battle’

Mal Leary
Gov. Paul LePage at a press conference Wednesday.

Gov. Paul LePage touched off a major firestorm a week ago, when he asserted that Maine’s heroin trafficking is primarily perpetrated by blacks and Hispanics.

Since then, LePage has been trying to clean up the mess. But questions still remain about whether the governor’s apologies are enough to fix the damage.

While some at the State House are ready to move on, others worry that a failure to punish LePage will only further harm state government and Maine’s reputation.

Day 8 of the biggest threat to LePage’s governership came with an apology — first to state Rep. Drew Gattine, the Democrat who the governor assailed via voicemail with profanity and gay slurs. LePage then apologized to the state of Maine.

He began by reading from a statement.

“Once again, I want to sincerely apologize to the people of Maine, and the Gattine family,” LePage said.

But LePage went on to blame newspapers for his comments about race, the news media for baiting him into his action against Gattine and political opponents for calling him a racist. He expressed frustration, regret, sadness and anger.

“Being called a racist was a horrible thing for me. it was enormously hurtful. It hurt my family,” LePage said, pausing after mentioning his family. “I will not resign, though. My family are behind me.”

He paused again. He rapped his knuckles on his desk, as if gathering himself.

“I’m going to win this battle,” he said.

The governor took few questions from reporters.

He was asked if he regretted repeatedly saying blacks and Hispanics are mainly responsible for the heroin trade. He blamed newspapers as the source of his information, contradicting his assertion last week that he had ordered his staff to compile mugshots of traffickers because he believed newspapers had stopped running arrest photos of people of color.

He was then asked whether he suffered from substance addiction or mental illness, responding to elected officials and others who have openly wondered the same.

“To whomever it was, I’m not an alcoholic and I’m not a drug addict. And I don’t have mental issues. What I have is a backbone and I want to move Maine forward,” he said.

The response to the governor’s apology was mixed. Democratic activists chided his pain at being called a racist, saying experiencing racism is worse. Others were unconvinced that LePage has learned from a controversy that has drawn widespread media attention — none of it positive.

Earlier this week a Boston Globe columnist dubbed LePage the George Wallace of New England. Officials in Massachusetts have ripped the governor’s claim that blacks and Hispanics in their towns are pumping dope into Maine.

“We’re getting calls from people who don’t live in Maine, telling us they’re not coming to Maine for a vacation this weekend,” said Democratic House Leader Jeff McCabe. “That tells me that this problem is not remedied by the actions of the governor this morning.”

House leader Jeff McCabe was not alone in his skepticism. Gattine, who met with LePage Wednesday morning, said he never wanted an apology. He wants the repeated controversies to end, and LePage to resign.

“We need a governor who can work with us every day, who can try to solve these problems. I’m concerned that we can’t go ahead for the next two years and continue to be in this constant cycle,” Gattine said.

LePage’s chances of surviving sanctions by the Legislature are improving.

On Tuesday, House Republican leaders condemned LePage’s conduct and said it was “a seismic event” and an impediment to their conservative agenda. When asked what line the governor would need to cross to bring about sanctions, Republican House Leader Kenneth Fredette struggled to answer. Nor did Fredette express confidence that he and his caucus had dealt with the last controversy initiated by the governor.

Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau also seemed pessimistic. And Thibodeau said some members of his caucus are not ready to let the matter rest.

“I think Senate Republicans are concerned for the governor, they’re concerned for his family. They want to know where things are going,” Thibodeau said.

Thibodeau said he asked the governor to apologize to Gattine and Maine people during a private meeting held Monday. He also asked him seek professional help.

Asked whether the governor had fulfilled those requests, Thibodeau said he wasn’t sure. He was unwilling to diagnose the governor, saying only that he knew quote “something is wrong.”

“What I’m sure of is that we can’t continue to have the explosiveness that we’ve seen,” he said.

Thibodeau also said LePage should steer clear of stirring racial tensions.

“We don’t need to be throwing gasoline on that fire. He needs to refrain from doing that,” he said.

Listen to LePage's press conference.