AUGUSTA, Maine — Amid political pressure and calls for his resignation, Republican Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday suggested that he might be considering stepping aside but seemed to reject the idea entirely hours later in a tweet, saying, “The reports of my political demise are greatly exaggerated.”
Meanwhile, House Republicans prepared to gather Tuesday evening in Augusta to figure out potential ramifications for LePage’s latest crisis while Democrats promoted a rally near the Blaine House to call for the governor to resign.
LePage, who already had a tempestuous relationship with lawmakers, has been criticized in recent days for an obscene voicemail he left for a Democratic legislator and for blaming minorities for the state’s heroin crisis. Democratic lawmakers have warned that LePage was coming unhinged, and they called for a political intervention.
Speaking Tuesday on WVOM-FM radio, LePage apologized for his tirade last week against Rep. Drew Gattine and said it was “unacceptable and totally my fault.” LePage said he intends to make amends, and he is scheduled to meet with Gattine on Wednesday morning in Augusta.
He seemed to toy with the idea of stepping down as governor, saying if he has lost his ability to convince Maine residents that he is the right person for the job, “maybe it is the time to move on.”
“I’m not going to say I’m not going to finish it,” LePage said. “I’m not saying I am going to finish it.”
When asked by WGME-TV hours later about whether he was considering resigning, LePage said “I am looking at every option available to my family.” He said his daughter has been “harassed enormously.”
A tweet later in the day seemed to specifically rule out resignation.
“Regarding rumours of resignation, to paraphrase Mark Twain: ‘The reports of my political demise are greatly exaggerated,'” LePage wrote.
Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond called the tweet back-pedalling and an example of LePage’s “erratic” and “troubling” behaviour.
“One moment he says he’s doing the solemn soul-searching necessary to decide whether he is fit to serve,” Alfond said. “The next moment, he’s shooting off a tweet saying he didn’t mean it.”
On Thursday, LePage left a voicemail message for Gattine that said, “I am after you,” and then told reporters he wished he could challenge Gattine to a duel and point a gun “right between his eyes.”
LePage said at the time that his reaction was warranted because he heard Gattine had called him a racist. Gattine has repeatedly denied calling LePage a racist.
Previously, the governor has complained about out-of-state drug dealers named “D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” impregnating young white girls and has blamed a rise in infectious diseases on immigrants without providing data.
LePage has blamed liberals for inserting race into his comments and distorting his meaning.
At a town hall in North Berwick on Aug. 24, he said he keeps photos of drug dealers arrested in the state in a binder and claims it shows that 90 per cent of them “are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Connecticut; the Bronx; and Brooklyn.”
LePage told reporters his repeated mentioning of the race of drug traffickers is relevant because when you go to war, “you shoot at the enemy.”
“And the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in are people of colour or people of Hispanic origin,” LePage said. He said that heroin traffickers are mostly minorities while whites are largely responsible for methamphetamine crimes in Maine.
LePage on Tuesday said the photos in his binder come from press reports of drug arrests, not scientific data. The Associated Press has requested a copy of the binder.
In 2014, according to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Service, 1,211 people were arrested for selling or making drugs in Maine. Of those, 170—or 14 per cent—were black.
There are signs of exasperation with LePage’s conduct among Maine Republicans and Democrats alike. But any possible ramifications against LePage—who has repeatedly avoided punishment and retained his base of political support—are unclear.
Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau and Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette met with LePage at the Blaine House on Monday night. The two had earlier called for “corrective action” but didn’t elaborate on what that might be.
House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, a Democrat, said that LePage has crossed a line but that he and other lawmakers may reconsider their calls for resignation if the governor agrees to seek professional help for his behaviour and outlines a treatment plan.
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