Gov. Paul LePage told a group of Republican lawmakers and political supporters during a fundraiser on Aug. 12 that President Barack Obama “hates white people,” according to an attendee of the event.
“It was a typical, off the cuff, off the script, Paul LePage comment,” the attendee, who preferred to remain anonymous because of fear of political reprisals, told the Bangor Daily News.
The attendee described the governor’s comments as plainspoken and tacked onto the end of remarks to the group that were critical of the Affordable Care Act, the president’s health care reform bill commonly referred to as “Obamacare.”
The fundraiser was sponsored by the Kennebec County Republican Committee and was held at the private home of John and Lisa Fortier in Belgrade.
Between 50 and 60 people attended, including several sitting Republican lawmakers, representatives from Sen. Susan Collins’ office and the new chairman of the Republican Party, Rick Bennett.
The fundraiser was billed as a chance to meet the governor and first lady and honor Bennett’s election as chairman, according to a Maine Republican Party mailing. The donation was $50 per person to attend.
Bennett, reached Monday, confirmed the governor made comments about President Obama and race during the fundraiser.
“[Gov. LePage] said President Obama had an opportunity to unify the country on race, but didn’t do anything,” Bennett said.
When asked directly whether the governor made the remark about the president and white people, Bennett said, “I didn’t hear that.”
In a subsequent conversation, he said, “The governor is not a racist. He raised an African-American kid,” a reference to Devon Raymond, a native of Jamaica who lived with the LePages in Waterville, and whom the governor refers to as his adopted son.
“I’ve never heard him say anything racist,” Bennett said.
LePage political adviser Brent Littlefield also said the governor is not a racist.
“It seems farfetched for anyone, even a newspaper, to make an insinuation the Governor is racist given his life history. He and his family made a choice and sacrifice when they offered Devon the opportunity to join their family many years ago. Paul and Ann call him their son. Paul LePage recognized many people helped him make it out of poverty and he has been determined to help others succeed,” Littlefield said in an email statement.
Littlefield also pointed out LePage’s regular attendance at Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations in Waterville.
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, also attended the fundraiser, but said he did not hear any offensive remarks from the governor.
“I was kind of in-and-out,” Fredette said.
The attendee who confirmed the remarks said those farthest away from the governor likely would have had difficulty hearing him.
The governor’s remarks first were reported Monday by the Portland Press Herald, which cited two unnamed Republican lawmakers as hearing LePage’s comments.
LePage spokesman Peter Steele told them the event was a campaign function and referred questions to Littlefield.
Calls for comment to LePage’s representatives were not returned Monday evening.
Reaction to the governor’s comments spread quickly across social media Monday evening, drawing scorn from Republicans and Democrats alike.
One high-profile Republican, former 1st District congressional candidate Dean Scontras, went so far as to say LePage should resign.