AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Friday tried to move on from the controversy caused by his recent remarks comparing the Internal Revenue Service with the Gestapo, issuing an apology in his weekly radio address and doubling down on his criticism of the Affordable Care Act.
“The acts of the Holocaust were nothing short of horrific,” LePage said in his prerecorded address. “Millions of innocent people were murdered and I apologize for my insensitivity to the word and the offense some took to my comparison of the IRS and the Gestapo.”
“I want to make this very clear: It was never my intent to insult or to be hurtful to anyone, but rather express what can happen by overreaching government,” the governor said. “I fear we have a federal government that is moving toward a socialistic state, and we must not forget history because, if we do, we are bound to repeat it.”
LePage’s public apology capped off a controversy begun a week ago when LePage called the IRS “the new Gestapo” in a weekly radio address focused on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that upheld most provisions of the Obama administration’s signature health care reform law.
The radio address “was intended to shed more light on the tenuous situation Maine is facing,” LePage said. “Instead, one word halted the conversation and spurred a flurry of unintended consequences.”
The governor tried to put the statement behind him Monday when he said in a statement that he didn’t mean to insult anyone with his comments “or minimize the fact that millions of people were murdered.” While he stopped short of apologizing in the public statement, LePage apologized privately to Emily Chaleff, executive director of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine.
Then on Thursday in Vermont, LePage reignited the controversy when he told a reporter that the IRS might not be as bad as the Gestapo, but that the federal tax collection agency is headed in that direction.
“The Holocaust was a horrific crime against humanity and, frankly, I would never want to see that repeated,” LePage said during an interview with Seven Days, an alternative weekly newspaper in Burlington, Vt. “Maybe the IRS is not quite as bad — yet.”
The remarks on Thursday caused the Maine Democratic Party to issue a statement that said LePage’s “fitness to hold office must now be seriously and openly questioned.”
Before recording his radio address Friday morning, LePage met with Chaleff, other representatives of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine and Derrek Shulman, director of the Anti-Defamation League of New England in the State House cabinet room.
“We are looking forward to closure on the issue and recognize that, through a healthy dialogue, we can learn from this,” LePage said of the meeting in his address.
“It was a very good and candid dialogue,” Shulman said. “The governor clearly heard the concerns of the community and of his constituents. He was good enough to share with us some of his thoughts, and we certainly appreciate it.”
The Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine and the Anti-Defamation League of New England both had issued statements condemning LePage’s remarks and calling on the governor to apologize for them.
“We welcome his apology,” Shulman said Friday. “There is no place for analogies to the Holocaust when discussing U.S. public policy. Analogies like that are demeaning to the victims and undermine civil discourse and respectful dialogue, and we conveyed that to the governor.”
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Chaleff said, “It is clear the Governor regrets the hurt his language caused. As he clearly understands, the wounds of the Holocaust have their own unique and terrible place in world history.”
LePage also used his address to call on the Obama administration to provide states with more details on implementing the Affordable Care Act. He cited seven Democratic governors who have reservations about participating in the health care law’s expansion of the federal Medicaid program, which provides health insurance for low-income people.
“The federal government has had adequate time to come up with answers,” LePage said. “The problem is, there are none — at least none that will make the administration look good or lower the high cost of health care.”