February 25, 2018
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LePage is only New England governor not to condemn Virginia white supremacist protests

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Maine Gov. Paul LePage at a 2016 campaign rally in Portland.
By Steve Mistler, Maine Public
Updated:

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is among a minority of the nation’s governors yet to issue a public statement about the white nationalist protests that turned violent Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia.

So far, the governor’s silence stands out at a time when most of his Republican and Democratic colleagues have rushed to Twitter and Facebook and penned news releases to condemn the violence and protests that some worry are emboldened by deep cultural divisions and emblematic of a burgeoning domestic crisis.

The Charlottesville protests left one woman dead after an alleged white supremacist plowed into a crowd with his car. Two Virginia state troopers also perished when a helicopter responding to the unrest crashed.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, told New Hampshire Public Radio that the racist protesters were “absolutely disgusting.”

“That kind of racism, this white supremacy stuff, there’s absolutely no place for it,” Sununu said.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, also a Republican, joined that state’s leaders condemning the protests.

“History and bigotry have no place here,” Baker tweeted.

LePage is the only governor from New England not to comment on the protests and among approximately 11 others nationwide, according to a review of all 50 governors’ Twitter accounts, Facebook posts, press releases and news accounts.

The governor regularly declines media interviews. His office did not respond to a request for a statement.

Several of those who have not commented are from Southern states where a debate over the removal of Confederate monuments has turned contentious. The planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee sparked the Charlottesville white supremacists protest.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant are among those who have not made a public statement. Earlier this year Ivey signed into law sweeping protections for Confederate monuments. In April, Bryant proclaimed Confederate Heritage Month.

Other silent governors include Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who was recently appointed by Republican President Donald Trump to the Office of Religious Freedom.

Another Trump supporter, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, tweeted condolences to the families of the state troopers killed while en route to the unrest sparked by the protests, but made no mention of Heather Heyer, the woman killed by the alleged white supremacist who drove into a crowd.

Trump has endured withering criticism for his initial response to the protests. Some have accused him of creating a false moral equivalency between white supremacist protesters and counterprotesters. Others have suggested that he did not single out white supremacists because they’re among his supporters.

The president has been forced to make several clarifying statements since his initial response on Saturday.

LePage supported Trump during his rise to the presidency and he has made several statements supporting him since he took the White House. It’s unclear whether the governor’s loyalty to the president has prompted him to stay out of the Charlottesville discussion.

But relationships with Trump did not deter Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an early Trump backer, from unequivocally denouncing the protests. Christie, who befriended LePage shortly after the Lewiston native was elected governor in 2011, blasted the protesters, adding in a tweet, “Everyone in leadership should speak out.”

By Monday afternoon, most high-ranking officials across the country had.

Not only is the governor an outlier among governors in not responding to the protests, but he’s also an outlier in his own state. Maine’s entire congressional delegation has forcefully condemned the white supremacist protests.

Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District said in a statement that he’s “deeply saddened and disgusted” by the acts of terrorism in Charlottesville. Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins released a similar statement, as did U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District.

The Charlottesville protests contained images of participants using racist and bigoted statements against immigrants, African-Americans and Jews. Some waved Confederate and Nazi flags, prompting Republican U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah to tweet.

“We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home,” he wrote.

This report appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

 


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