AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Friday conceded “many slip-ups” when he said out-of-state drug dealers often impregnate young, white women but hammered the media for focusing on the remarks.
The Republican governor was responding for the first time to comments that came at a Wednesday town hall meeting in Bridgton, where he said men from Connecticut and New York with the names “D-Money,” “Smoothie” and “Shifty” come to Maine to sell heroin and “half the time, they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave.”
They also made LePage a part of the 2016 presidential race, with Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s campaign denouncing the remarks and the Democratic National Committee calling on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican candidate, to renounce LePage’s endorsement.
On Friday, LePage said he “was going impromptu, and my brain didn’t catch up to my mouth,” but he said the comments weren’t “meant to isolate any one person” and he should have said “Maine women” because the state is “essentially 95 percent white.”
He conceded there were words that “could have been better used,” but he said, “I’m not going to deny or apologize for that,” because “that’s who I am.”
LePage unleashed harsh criticism at the media, noting the story about the comments wasn’t picked up by reporters who were at the Wednesday event but only gained attention after Lance Dutson, a Republican operative who often opposes LePage, flagged the remarks for reporters.
LePage’s remarks were condemned by top Maine Democrats: U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District called them “disgraceful and racist,” with Maine House Speaker Mark Eves saying they “have no place in Maine or any other decent society” and Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond calling them “completely unproductive.”
Staffers for the rest of Maine’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd District, who are Republicans, and independent U.S. Sen. Angus King didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, called the comments “inappropriate” and said “they detract from the focus we should have in combatting the drug crisis here in Maine.”
Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett didn’t go as far, saying LePage’s words were “ill-chosen,” but he was right to “refocus the discussion to the destructive impact of the heroin crisis in Maine.”
Arguing that the focus on racial implications of his comments deflected attention away from his goal of fighting against Maine’s heroin crisis, LePage said the media “did nothing to help us” achieve his goal of hiring 10 new drug agents earlier this year.
He implored the media to focus on the impact of drug addiction in Maine, including domestic violence and children who become endangered or wards of the state.
“My passion and my desire is to rid ourselves of domestic violence and to get drug dealers off the street,” he said.
But as LePage was holding his news conference on the State House’s second floor, the Legislature’s budget-writing committee was holding a work session on a $4.9 million proposal from legislative leaders to fight Maine’s drug crisis.
Overdoses killed 174 people during the first nine months of 2015 in Maine. The office of Attorney General Janet Mills projected that the year’s total could reach 250, which would be a record.
Mills, a Democrat, said “it diminishes that whole problem by injecting race into it.” She was also in the committee room on Friday and noticed that no reporters were there because they were focused on LePage.
“That’s where the real work is being done and I hope the governor understands that,” she said.