AUGUSTA, Maine — A day after Gov. Paul LePage told a group of high school students that he would “like to shoot” a Bangor Daily News cartoonist, a top advocate for expanding passenger rail to Lewiston-Auburn said that LePage earlier this month said state lawmakers from Lewiston should be “rounded up and executed in the public square.”
Tony Donovan, a Portland-based real estate developer and member of the executive council for the Sierra Club Maine, said Thursday that LePage made the statement during an hour-long meeting in LePage’s office at the State House on June 8.
“Maybe I didn’t hear right, but I’m pretty sure I did hear right,” Donovan said. “He was pretty vulgar and said he thinks the entire Lewiston delegation should be rounded up and executed in the public square. He did say that to me.”
Donovan said LePage seemed particularly angry with Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, who is also the House chairwoman of the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee. Donovan said LePage’s vulgarity was aimed largely at Rotundo.
The revelation from Donovan comes a day after LePage told a group of about 200 high school juniors attending Dirigo Boys State in Waterville that he would “like to shoot” cartoonist George Danby.
LePage made the comment after Danby’s son, Nick Danby, who was in attendance at the meeting, asked the governor what he thought of the cartoonist.
The newspaper’s editors, including Anthony Ronzio, director of news and audience, demanded an apology from LePage and was told the governor would take care of it “personally.”
“Jokes about shooting someone aren’t funny,” Ronzio said in a message on his Twitter account Thursday. “It was shocking and tasteless.”
The January massacre of 12 people, including five cartoonists and a police officer, by terrorists in France at the headquarters of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, makes LePage’s comment particularly insensitive, Ronzio said.
LePage’s communications director, Peter Steele, confirmed the LePage statement to the Sun Journal but said the governor intended to address the matter by writing a note to Nick Danby.
“The governor shouldn’t be making those comments, even though I know he doesn’t care for my stuff because I pick on him quite a bit in my cartoon,” George Danby told The Huffington Post Thursday. “But it’s always within the boundaries of fairness and free speech and satire.”
Steele did not confirm the comments regarding the Lewiston delegation but did confirm that LePage meet with Donovan, Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald and City Administrator Ed Barrett on June 8.
Macdonald said Thursday he didn’t hear LePage make any comments about executions and said that Donovan was “making it up.”
Macdonald said the conversation with LePage was mostly the governor saying he didn’t believe the state should invest in passenger rail for Lewiston because there would not be a big enough return on the state’s investment.
“[LePage] was sitting there saying, ‘Show me our return on investment,'” Macdonald said. “The whole meeting was like that, it was between him and LePage, and LePage kept saying, ‘Show me the return on the investment.'”
Barrett confirmed that LePage did voice his displeasure with the city’s legislative delegations, which includes Rotundo as well as Reps. Heidi Brooks, Jared Golden, Michel Lajoie and state Sen. Nate Libby, all Democrats.
Barrett said he couldn’t confirm the specifics of what LePage said but did recall the governor expressing his opposition to passenger rail and concern over return on the state’s investments.
“I find the governor’s remarks deeply disturbing,” Rotundo said Thursday.
Both she and Libby said they were not in the meeting and couldn’t corroborate Donovan’s statement.
“But if it’s true, it’s an outrageous for any public official, particularly the governor of the state of Maine,” Rotundo said. “The comments are reckless, irresponsible and dangerous, and I condemn them.”
Libby said he was “deeply disappointed to hear that coming from our chief executive.”
Meanwhile, Golden, who has been a steady advocate for passenger rail during the recent lawmaking session, said he was troubled by LePage’s statements, if they were true.
“I wasn’t a part of the meeting so I can’t say for sure what was said,” Golden said. “But I am deeply troubled if there is any truth to this. I hope this isn’t the case because talk like that is dangerous, irresponsible and unacceptable.”
And, without having heard the statement, Lajoie said it was difficult for him to comment. But, he said, “overall with what’s happening with events involving the LePage, including House Speaker Eves losing his job, overall it’s a sad situation.”
“I believe things could go a lot better if we, including the governor, were working together,” Lajoie said. “We’re going to have to deal with what’s happening, and it takes away precious time from running the state.”
Donovan said he didn’t fear retaliation from LePage.
“But do I expect retaliation from this governor for crossing him? Yeah, I do,” Donovan said.