LEWISTON, Maine — With a fury that has become almost rote during his two terms in office, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) has reignited a debate about race and crime in his state. Over 36 spittle-flecked hours, he insisted that the vast majority of violent criminals were black or Hispanic, and blew up at a Democratic legislator whom he believed had — and who had not — accused him of racism.
On Wednesday night, at a town hall meeting in Berwick, LePage was asked about month-old remarks that described most drug dealers in the state as black or Hispanic people with thuggish names.
"I made the comment that black people are trafficking in our state, now ever since I said that comment I’ve been collecting every single drug dealer who has been arrested in our state,” LePage said, according to the Portland Press Herald. “I don’t ask them to come to Maine and sell their poison, but they come and I will tell you that 90-plus percent of those pictures in my book, and it’s a three-ringed binder, are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Conn., the Bronx and Brooklyn.”
The next day, as the comment went viral, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine issued a Freedom of Information Act request asking for the binder, noting that LePage had suggested an "alarming disparity in arrests" given data that shows white and nonwhite people committing drug crimes at an equal rate. In a stormy encounter with the press, LePage repeated himself, but refused to reveal who was in the binder.
"Let me tell you something: Black people come up the highway and they kill Mainers," he told reporters. "You ought to look into that! You make me so sick.”
Later Thursday night, LePage called Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine, whom he believed to be among the people calling him a racist. "I would like to talk to you about your comments about my being a racist," LePage said in a voicemail obtained by the Portland Press Herald. "I want to talk to you. I want you to prove that I’m a racist. I’ve spent my life helping black people, and you little son of a b----, socialist ... — I want you to record this and make it public because I am after you. Thank you.”
Gattine denied having called LePage a racist, but the voicemail drew yet more attention to a story that could have ended with the revelation of the binder. On Friday, as he campaigned in Lewiston, Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson — himself a former governor, of New Mexico — criticized LePage's tone and conclusions.
"It to me just highlights the Black Lives Matter movement," Johnson said before an evening rally. "Black people are being shot at, six times the rate of whites."
Dan McGlincey, a security guard from Sanford who attended Johnson's rally, winced at a mention of the latest controversy. He'd personally seen the governor donate to charity, and supported him in policy clashes with Democrats, but couldn't understand his bare-knuckled approach.
"It’s unfortunate, but he’s got this uncompromising style that’s not really conducive to getting things done in politics," said McGlincey.