Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) thinks a civil rights icon and Democratic congressman who got his skull cracked open fighting for equal rights should say “thank you” to Republican presidents.
“We’re sick of the silver-tongued people. How about John Lewis last week? Criticizing the president? It was Abraham Lincoln that freed the slaves,” LePage told Maine radio station WVOM. “It was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant that fought against Jim Crow laws. A simple ‘thank you’ would suffice.”
Yes, those are all Republican presidents. And no, Jim Crow laws — the kind that Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) was beaten for protesting in Alabama — were not around when any of the people LePage mentioned were president. In fact, historians argue that efforts to demilitarize Reconstruction after the Civil War paved the way for Jim Crow laws to thrive in the South in the 20th century. (Hayes did have a showdown with Congress as he fought to protect voting rights for African Americans.)
LePage’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. LePage appeared to be attempting to defend President-elect Donald Trump as more than 50 Democratic House lawmakers, Lewis included, planned to skip out on Trump’s inauguration. Lewis said he’s not going because he doesn’t think Trump is a “legitimate” president, a controversial statement in its own right.
Whether it’s about the inauguration or his state’s opioid epidemic, LePage often finds a way to frame what he’s talking about within the prism of race — and his tendency to do so has earned him plenty of controversy. Let’s review:
1. “Tell ’em to kiss my butt." — LePage to a reporter about the Maine NAACP in 2011. LePage announced he would not be attending Martin Luther King Jr. Day events because, he told a TV station, he thought the group was a special interest.
2. “Guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty [who] come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home [and] half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave.”
LePage added that’s “a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road." — January 2016, talking about Maine’s opioid epidemic
3. “My brain didn’t catch up to my mouth. Instead of saying Maine women, I said white women.” — LePage at a news conference in January 2016, apologizing for saying “white women” but otherwise not backing down from the above comments
4. “Let me tell you something: Black people come up the highway and they kill Mainers. You ought to look into that!” — LePage having a confrontation with reporters in July
5. “Let me tell you this, explain to you, 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. 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, Connecticut, the Bronx and Brooklyn.” — LePage to a black businessman at a town hall in August. (An Associated Press review of that binder found that about one-third show black and Hispanic defendants.)
6. “I have helped many, many families. In fact, I even brought a black person into my family. Nobody wants to give you the real story, but the fact of the matter is, sir, I am not a racist.” — LePage to the businessman at the same town hall. (About that “black person” he brought into his family: LePage welcomed a Jamaican teenager into his family for several years, but he is not, as LePage likes to say or The Fix originally wrote, his adopted son.)
7. “You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.” — LePage in a news conference in August. (The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine said statistics show that white people are more likely to sell drugs than black people.)
8. “You know and I know and everybody in the state knows that the overwhelming majority of the people that have been arrested this year, coming out of Connecticut and New York, have been black and Hispanic, it’s not a matter of race, it’s a matter of fact. Are there some white ones? Yes, there are some white people.” — LePage responding to a reporter's question in August when asked why the race of the accused drug dealers in his binder matters.
This post has been corrected with the date LePage told Maine NAACP to “kiss my butt.” He said it in 2011.