AUGUSTA, Maine — The only African-American lawmaker serving in the Maine Legislature said Tuesday he met with Gov. Paul LePage to discuss controversial comments the governor made last week.
Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, said he talked with LePage about a number of topics, but the two did discuss LePage’s Jan. 6 comments in Bridgton, where LePage said drug traffickers from out of state were coming to Maine and “before they leave, they impregnate a young white girl.”
The comment caused a firestorm of media attention for LePage who later said he “slipped up” and that instead of “white girl,” he meant to say Maine women.
“We talked about the impact of everything we say as elected officials,” Hickman said. “That’s all. It was a private conversation, it was one-on-one, it was face-to-face.”
Hickman said that politically he and LePage don’t agree on much, but he’s enjoyed a respectful working relationship with the governor. He also said LePage does usually take the time to meet with him when he requests a meeting.
LePage on Tuesday morning first mentioned the conversation with Hickman on a talk radio show hosted by WVOM. He said his comments from last week were not racially motivated as his critics have claimed.
“I was sitting with Rep. Hickman yesterday,” LePage said. “We were talking about two issues. April 1922, the largest Ku Klux Klan rally in the history of our country was against French-Canadians coming to Maine trying to work in the factories. Look, should it have been another word? Probably, I should have said, ‘Maine women,’ but even then, Maine is one of the whitest states in America — whether we are No. 1 or No. 2. I’m not going to make excuses or apologize for something that wasn’t there.”
Hickman said Tuesday he wasn’t passing any judgment on what was in LePage’s heart.
“But given our nation’s history, I was upset,” he said.
“Face-to-face conversations are sacred in some sense,” Hickman said. “What people say to each other in good faith, is what they say to each other in good faith. And I’m not here to report on anything other than that it was a constructive, respectful conversation.”
Hickman also said President Lyndon Johnson was recorded saying things in private that would be considered racist and would likely be politically incendiary today. But Johnson was always civil in his public discourse and was the president who did more than any other to see the Civil Rights Act passed into law and played a huge role in the efforts to end race-based discrimination in America.
Hickman said perhaps a broader conversation for Maine people would be the lack of diversity within state government, the Legislature or even the State House press corps, which is largely dominated by men.