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At Town Hall, LePage Apologizes for Racially-Charged Remarks

Mal Leary
Maine Public/file
Gov. Paul LePage defends his racially-charged remarks about drug dealers at a town hall meeting in North Berwick in August, 2016.

PORTLAND, Maine - Gov. Paul LePage apologized to an African-American Mainer Wednesday night for past remarks that identified people of color with drug-dealing in Maine, and suggesting that a civil rights leader should thank white people for advancing the cause.

At a packed, occasionally unruly town hall meeting in Yarmouth, resident Garrett Stewart, a Bath Iron Works ship-fitter, asked LePage why he would make inflammatory remarks about race. 

Stewart mentioned LePage's insistence last year that the state's illegal drug trade is dominated by African Americans from out-of-state, and his comment that John Lewis - the civil rights leader who now serves in Congress --  should thank white Americans for ending slavery.

"My question is why do you say things like that on TV, where my kids can hear it?" Stewart asked. I think it's unfortunate that you say that. You are the governor of Maine, you should be above all that."

"I apologize to you and your children," LePage said.

LePage also said he respects immigrants and refugees, and has met recently with leaders of Somali and Sudanese communities in Maine - and he citied bias against French Canadians, including his parents, when they moved to Maine in the early 20th century.

The governor was not apologetic, though, when asked why he was not more respectful to those who hold different views from his own. Respect is earned, not given, LePage said. He added that he is disrespected daily, and he shoulders it, and moves on.

LePage also said he'll push for a national welfare work requirement when he returns to Washington this week. “I am going to Washington and that’s one of the specific issues: to have a work requirement," he said. "The country needs every single American who is able to contribute to the success of the country. I’m a believer in the safety net, but if you’re able, you need to contribute.”

LePage said he would also lobby for continued funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Absolutely. I am a big, big fan of NOAA, and I will tell you one other thing - if we are going to invest in the infrastructure of the state of Maine, we have to clean up our ocean and our lakes and our rivers."

President Trump is proposing significant cuts in NOAA's budget, including the Sea Grant program that's supported many coastal businesses in Maine. NOAA also tracks climate change data - and while LePage says he supports the agency's work, he told the audience that he does not think there is scientific consensus that climate change is caused by human activity.