Maine Gov. Paul LePage shifts tone, hints at resigning

During an interview on a Maine radio station, LePage said he's 'looking at all options,' and apologized to a state representative who received a profanity-laced voicemail from the governor last week. 

Elise Amendola/AP
Maine Gov. Paul LePage speaks during a conference of New England's governors and eastern Canada's premiers to discuss closer regional collaboration on Monday, Aug. 29, 2016, in Boston.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage suggested Tuesday that he might consider resigning, days after the Republican left a profane voicemail for a state representative, and appeared to challenge him to a duel, in response to a report that the representative had called Mr. LePage a racist. LePage seemed to do an about-face later Tuesday, however, offering an apology that Democrats called "half-hearted." 

"I am looking at all options. I think some things I've been asked to do are beyond my ability. I'm not going to say that I'm not going to finish it. I'm not saying that I am going to finish it," Mr. LePage told WMOV, a talk radio station in Bangor on Tuesday morning, according to the Portland Press Herald. "If I've lost my ability to help Maine people, maybe it's time to move on."

Later in the day, however, the governor's Twitter account suggested otherwise:

Since he was elected in 2010, LePage has established a reputation for his refusal to compromise with Democrats and a history of divisive remarks. His Tuesday comments over the air indicate a shift in his response to controversy, which has included profanity-laden sound bites and claims of abuse of power. On Tuesday, LePage indicated he would like the state to move forward, even if he must resign in order for that to happen.

This statement is an about-face from the bombastic comments he left in the voicemail Thursday for Rep. Drew Gattine, a Democrat. LePage left the threatening voicemail after a television reporter appeared to suggest that Mr. Gattine was among several lawmakers to call LePage a racist, based on his comments at a town hall the night before, when he said that 90 percent of the photos in a binder of drug dealer arrests in 2016 were of people of color, according to the Portland Press Herald.

This is not the first time LePage has come under criticism for emphasizing the races of drug dealers, and he did not back down on Friday, the day after he left the voicemail.

"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 said in a Friday press conference.

In Thursday's voicemail, LePage urged Gattine to prove he was a racist, and encouraged him to release the recording. In an interview with reporters later Thursday, LePage said he would like to challenge Gattine to a duel, and "would point it right between his eyes."

Gattine denied he called LePage a racist.

"What I said to the television reporter today is that the kind of racially charged comments the governor made are not at all helpful in solving what the real problem is," he said, referring to the heroin epidemic.

During Tuesday's radio interview, LePage apologized to Gattine and his family.

“When I was called a racist I just lost it, and there’s no excuse,” the governor said. “It’s unacceptable. It’s totally my fault.”

LePage said being called a racist for him was, “like calling a black man the ‘N’ word or a woman the ‘C’ word. It just absolutely knocked me off my feet.”

But Democrats and members of LePage’s own party said the apology didn’t go far enough.

LePage is infamous for controversial, racist, and violent comments. As The Christian Science Monitor has reported. 

Mr. LePage has a penchant for rejecting "the norms of civility," as Colby College public affairs expert Dr. Dan Shea told the Associated Press. Last week, comments that drug-dealing "guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie and Shifty" were coming to Maine to impregnate "young white" women landed him in national hot water, but LePage has a long history of offending, often with allegedly racist remarks.

He's also "joked" about blowing up a Maine newspaper and admits that he threatened to cut off a charter school's funding if the parent organization hired the current House speaker, Mark Eves.

Beyond these one-liners, however, LePage and lawmakers have turned the Maine Legislature from a model of bipartisanship into a tightly-gridlocked one, as the Monitor’s Henry Gass reported.

Maine politics has reached new levels of partisanship under his leadership. While this isn’t solely about the tone he has set – state Democrats have fought him with the subtlety of a foghorn – Mainers are taking stock of how their political discourse has changed so much so quickly, and whether the state will revert to its moderate and pragmatic political traditions.

But just as the state presaged the rise of Mr. Trump on populist anger, it might now be coming to terms with a need to reclaim its practical past, providing lessons for a nation that, like Maine, is looking at its politics with mounting disgust.

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