AUGUSTA, Maine — After Democrats called for Gov. Paul LePage’s resignation on Monday, a top Republican called for “corrective action” following the governor’s remarks last week about black and Hispanic drug dealers and an obscene voicemail to a lawmaker.
Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport didn’t offer specifics about what that action might be, and on Monday evening, Thibodeau indicated that LePage’s response to Republican lawmakers’ concerns would dictate their next move.
Thibodeau and House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport met late Monday afternoon with LePage at the Blaine House.
Jim Cyr, a Thibodeau spokesman, said LePage told the leaders that “he would be speaking with his closest friends and family” about a corrective action and he would get back to leaders Tuesday.
“The ball is now in the governor’s court,” Cyr said.
Further details of Thibodeau’s and Fredette’s meeting with LePage were not immediately available, but Thibodeau laid out his agenda beforehand.
“I think we want to understand where he’s at and if he’s willing to take some corrective action,” Thibodeau told reporters. “Given the recent turn of events, I think most Mainers are concerned with the way we’re going.”
Thibodeau’s remarks came after Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond of Portland and Assistant Leader Dawn Hill of Cape Neddick joined House Democrats in calling for LePage’s resignation, saying he “has displayed behavior that indicates he is not in control of himself and is unfit to carry out the serious duties of his office.”
That’s after LePage responded to a question at a town hall meeting on Wednesday in North Berwick by saying he keeps a binder with information about alleged drug traffickers arrested in Maine and more than 90 percent of them are “black and Hispanic people” from out of state.
During a Thursday interview, a reporter told LePage that Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, had criticized him for the remarks on drug dealers. After that, LePage left Gattine a voicemail calling him a “socialist c—ksucker,” then he told the Portland Press Herald that he’d like to duel with Gattine and if he did, he’d point his gun “right between” Gattine’s eyes.
He later said it was a historical reference and he meant no harm, but that he was angered about being perceived as a racist. But the comments — and a Friday reference to black and Hispanic drug traffickers being an “enemy” — drew global attention.
The controversy continued throughout the weekend, with progressives announcing that they would hold a rally on Tuesday in front of the State House urging LePage’s resignation.
Criticism of LePage intensified Monday after he reportedly repeated his claim — this time to a Massachusetts news service — that the majority of people arrested for trafficking heroin and fentanyl in Maine were black and Hispanic people.
Thibodeau met with most members of his caucus on Monday, and House Republicans are expected to discuss the issue on Tuesday.
Short of persuading LePage to change his ways, the Legislature has two official options when it comes to the governor: They could impeach him — which was tried unsuccessfully by progressive lawmakers in January and is unlikely — or pass a resolution condemning him.
To do that, they’d have to convene a special session, but that has a large obstacle — cost. It’s been estimated that one special session day costs $43,000.
Rep. Norman Higgins, R-Dover Foxcroft, was one of the first Republicans to condemn LePage last week, saying Friday on Facebook that he thinks LePage “needs help and I encourage him to seek professional assistance.”
But on Monday, he said while “there needs to be an appropriate response,” he didn’t know what that was and hoped that the governor, his staff and family would discuss their next steps before any political response.
“I know everyone in this world wants an immediate solution, but we’re dealing with a pretty complicated [situation] here, and it’s highly charged in an election year,” Higgins said.