AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican Gov. Paul LePage sent mixed messages about his political future Tuesday, saying in the morning that it might be time for him to “move on,” but posting on Twitter later in the day that “reports of my political demise are greatly exaggerated.”
During a morning radio interview, a somewhat soft-spoken LePage offered new apologies for the now-infamous comments he directed at Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, last week.
That wasn’t enough for Democrats, who want LePage to resign. But while the top House Republican called his comments a “seismic event” in Maine politics, the governor has been “contrite” and his caucus won’t support returning to Augusta for a special session to censure the governor.
During his weekly radio appearance on WVOM, LePage said there are no excuses for the obscene voicemail he left for Gattine last week and that he wants to discuss the situation in person. The two will meet on Wednesday morning.
“There’s no excuses. It’s unacceptable,” LePage said. “I apologize to the Maine people and Rep. Gattine’s family.”
LePage also said he has been in consultations with his staff and family about what else he intends to do to in the wake of the controversy, which erupted last Thursday when a television reporter told LePage that Gattine had criticized him for comments that nearly all of Maine’s drug traffickers were black and Hispanic men from out of state.
The governor didn’t explain what other options are on the table, but when asked by one of the hosts of the radio show whether he’ll finish his second term, the governor said he’s “looking at all the options.”
“I’m not going to say that I’m not going to finish it. I’m not going to say that I am going to finish it,” he said. “I need to meet with Mr. Gattine and then meet with my team to look at the options.”
House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said during a news conference that LePage has proven he is unfit to hold office and repeated his party’s calls on the governor to resign.
“The governor has the option to step away,” he said. “We feel at this time that is the appropriate thing to do.”
LePage said Tuesday, as he has before, that his anger took over and led him to leave Gattine the voicemail after perceiving that Gattine called him a racist, saying it was “the first time in my entire life I couldn’t breathe because I was so angry.”
Of the word “racist,” LePage said “it’s like calling a black man the N word or a woman the C word. It just absolutely knocked me off my feet.”
LePage met for some 90 minutes on Monday with Republican lawmakers, including Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport.
On the radio, he said House members want “to salvage what we can and move forward,” while Republican senators “are making demands” and he “can do a lot of them and some of them I can’t do.”
The controversy around LePage’s comments — which included him saying that more than 90 percent of drug dealers who peddle heroin in Maine are black or Hispanic people from New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut — intensified over the weekend.
As Democratic legislative leaders called for LePage’s resignation; others lawmakers — including some Republican senators — suggested disciplinary action such as a censure. It would likely take the form of a resolution condemning LePage, but would require a special legislative session estimated at a cost of $43,000 per day. An impeachment bid from progressive lawmakers failed last January.
House Republicans met privately on Tuesday evening at the Governor Hill Mansion in Augusta to discuss the situation, with many rank-and-file members declining comment as they left the meeting.
Fredette said “no one” in his caucus agreed with LePage’s comments “or the tone it was said in,” but that the governor has expressed apologies and is “going to need to continue” to address the issue going forward. However, he said House Republicans are “not interested” in coming back for a special session, citing cost.
“This is a seismic event and it’s an event and an issue that he needs to deal with and I believe he’s begun that process,” Fredette said. “But as he begins that process, we believe we need to be out there talking about the issues and not just Paul LePage because we believe that’s what’s important to the people of Maine.”
In the meantime, an anti-LePage rally at Capitol Park — just across the street from the State House and governor’s mansion in Augusta, took place on Tuesday evening. The governor spent most of Tuesday in Washington County, celebrating an expansion at St. Croix Tissue Inc. in Baileyville.
LePage attempted to schedule his next town hall on Wednesday in Westbrook — which is Gattine’s hometown — but it has been canceled. In addition to LePage’s office saying they called off the appearance, officials at a Westbrook teen center where the meeting was to take place voted Monday night to cancel the event.
Senate Democrats responded to the Tuesday morning radio appearance by LePage.
“Whatever the cause of Gov. LePage’s behavior last week, it’s clear to anyone who listened to that tape, who read about the governor’s obscene insults, violent threats and endorsement of racial profiling, that this is a man who has spun out of control,” said Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond and Assistant Minority Leader Dawn Hill in a written statement.
Should LePage resign or be forced from office, Thibodeau — as Senate president — would take over as governor. Adding to the political calculation is the fact that Democrats have a good chance to win a Senate majority in November, meaning that if LePage resigns or is removed after the new Legislature takes office, a Democrat would likely become governor.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.