Governor LePage Causes Controversy with Racist Remarks

Maine Governor Paul LePage has attracted a large amount of national criticism recently. In early January, LePage made headlines when he complained about drug dealers “by the name of D-money, Smoothie, and Shifty” who bring heroin into Maine, “half the time impregnat[ing] a young, white girl before they leave.” In response, reporters and pundits on the right and left characterized LePage’s comments as implicitly racist, with many calling for the Governor’s resignation.

LePage later qualified his gaffe, claiming that he was referencing the fact that Maine is a predominantly-white state and that he should have said “Maine women” as opposed to “white girl[s].” This is not the first time LePage has gotten into trouble discussing race. In 2013, LePage was quoted by several Republican lawmakers as saying that “Obama hates white people,” and in 2011, LePage rather brazenly told a group of members from Maine’s NAACP chapter to “kiss my butt” when they chastised him for refusing to attend their MLK celebration.

Comments like these and the subsequent negative coverage concerning Maine’s governorship have likely contributed to the fact that LePage’s disapproval rating was at 55 percent among Maine residents last fall (the tenth highest in the US), as well as the fact that there was a concerted effort in the Maine State Legislature this winter to impeach him. On January 14, Democratic repre- sentatives introduced a proposal to the Maine State Legislature calling for an impeachment investigation. Although technically the impeachment proposal pertained to LePage “abusing the powers of the state chief executive,” the measure would likely not have gathered as much support without his vast unpopularity in many Democratic districts. Democratic representatives knew it was politically expedient to attempt to oust LePage; in October, even before the newest wave of controversial comments, LePage had a staggering 79 percent disapproval rating among Maine Democrats.

LePage’s contentious comments are just one component of the governor’s overall controversial tenure. In a historically blue state, LePage has succeeded in passing a number of laws completely anathema to the Democratic platform. In 2011, LePage championed a successful $150 million tax cut, the largest in state history, and doubled the estate tax exemption from $1 million to $2 million. Although these measures were introduced to stimulate Maine’s stagnant economy, they precipitated opposition from Maine residents. Moreover, LePage refused to expand Medicaid, vetoing proposals to do so five times, imposed a five year limit on welfare benefits, and promoted intensified investigation into welfare fraud and abuse. Despite these controversial changes, which are uncharacteristic of a majorityDemocrat state, it appears that it is his colorful and occasionally offensive comments that generate most of the negative criticism in the press.

LePage has been rigidly un- apologetic for his many political gaffes, which contributes to his opponents’ vitriol. When pointedly questioned by reporters about racially-contentious remarks, LePage often remind s people that he and his family have adopted a black son. And for this, LePage is seldom given his duly credit. Many of the aforementioned statements are frequently taken out of context by media sources, such as for the NAACP comment, were directly followed by statements like, “If they want to play the race card, come to dinner, my son will talk to them.” This by no means excuses the content of some of these statements whether taken out of context or not–but it is important to consider. LePage also self-deprecatingly acknowledges his penchant to put his foot in his mouth. In a gubernatorial debate in 2015, LePage joked, “even a frenchman can be told to cool down.” And one of his Maine campaign slogans was, “actions speak louder than words.”

To say nothing of the moral standard Maine’s leaders should be held accountable to, LePage’s off-color comments have been detrimental Maine and its prescient problems. LePage’s remarks have brought negative national and international press coverage for Maine and in the most recent instance, LePage’s comments have distracted attention away Maine’s serious heroin problem. There are, in fact, drug dealers that come from states like New York and Connecticut, as LePage claimed, and it is a legitimate concern for LePage’s to be addressing. But making the issue about race not only invokes a firestorm of controversy of its own, it also hinders the difficult task of dealing with the problem.

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