AUGUSTA, Maine — Several hundred people gathered Tuesday in a park across from the State House as part of an effort to send a message to Gov. Paul LePage: Stop bullying, support drug addiction treatment programs and if you can’t, step aside.
The rally was organized in response to a string of public statements by LePage that have attracted negative national attention. Betsy Sweet of Hallowell, who is a bullying prevention counselor and lobbyist, began organizing the event on Sunday.
“With all the kids I know who have been bullied, they say the hardest part is not the bully and it’s not the bullying event,” said Sweet. “It’s all the people who stand by and do nothing. Ordinary citizens needed and wanted to have a voice to say, ‘You don’t represent me. This is not the kind of people we are in Maine.’”
LePage, who is no stranger to making controversial and offensive statements, is under intense criticism for a series of comments he’s made since last week, ranging from his repeated contention that the vast majority of heroin dealers in Maine are black and Hispanic people from states to the south to leaving obscene insults on a Democratic representative’s voicemail.
LePage has offered apologies for some of his remarks and has scheduled a meeting with the lawmaker he verbally attacked, Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook, on Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, lawmakers from both parties are considering how and whether to discipline the chief executive, who easily survived impeachment proceedings brought on by Democrats in January. Democrats have repeatedly called for LePage to resign, while House Republicans — who met Tuesday at the same time of the rally — voiced opposition to calling a special session on LePage’s behavior.
Tuesday’s rally at Capitol Park started with a series of speeches and ended with attendees circling the perimeter and singing songs in the direction of the Blaine House, the governor’s residence. Many held signs and led chants. It was evident that there were very few LePage supporters present.
“I was disappointed that he was not impeached,” said Doreen Morgan of Augusta, who was one of the attendees. “He’s proven himself every day to be not just ineffective but damaging to the state of Maine in the eyes of the entire world with his insults and his vulgarity.”
Deqa Dhalac of South Portland, who is a member of the Somali Community Center of Maine, said LePage’s words have the potential to erupt in violence against minorities.
“We live in the whitest state in the country where our population is at least 96 percent white,” said Dhalac. “Black people and people of color in this state do not have the wiggle room for such slander or hate. … For our governor to openly say that we are the enemy makes it that much more likely that we could be attacked in any manner.”
LePage said during a radio interview Tuesday morning that he is consulting with family, friends and Republicans about what to do next. He said all options are on the table, including resignation, though his staff said later in the day that resignation was unlikely.
Aside from impeachment, the Maine Constitution gives the secretary of state the authority to begin the process of removing a governor from office when he or she “is unable to discharge the duties of that office.” That process involves a hearing before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, followed by a majority ruling.
Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said through a spokeswoman Tuesday that he is not commenting on the governor’s remarks nor the constitutional provision.
Another speaker at Tuesday’s rally was Rachel Talbot Ross, the longtime president of the NAACP of Portland. She touched on an emerging theme: That LePage’s outbursts are the result of an illness.
“The message here tonight is governor, please get some help,” said Ross. “These words do not reflect Maine’s values. This is not who we are. … We need the governor to step aside.”