Gov. Paul LePage said at a Wednesday town hall meeting in Bridgton that drug traffickers from Connecticut and New York come to Maine and impregnate girls who are “young” and “white” before leaving the state.
The comments gained national attention on Thursday evening, with ABC News, Vox, The Daily Beast and the Huffington Post picking up stories on them.
It also made the Republican governor part of the 2016 presidential campaign: Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s campaign condemned the remarks and the Democratic National Committee called on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican hopeful to renounce LePage’s endorsement.
A spokesman for LePage said his remarks weren’t about race, but Lance Dutson, a Republican strategist who formed Get Right Maine, said it hearkens back to “a dark time in this nation’s history” and seems intended to stoke fear among Mainers about “black men trying to impregnate their white daughters.”
The video of the event was posted online by a local public access channel on Thursday after it was flagged for media by Dutson’s group, which has opposed LePage. Reporters were at the event, but the comments weren’t flagged in reports from WGME and WMTW.
It came when LePage launched into comments on drug addiction, using a line that has become something of a stump speech on the topic, riffing on the street names of alleged drug dealers arrested in Maine.
He said “guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” come to Maine to sell heroin and “they go back home.” But after that, he diverted from his normal speech.
“Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we’ve got to deal with down the road,” said LePage.
In September, Dionhaywood “Smooth” Blackwell, 31, of New Haven, Connecticut, who is black, was one of five people arrested on felony drug charges after a Bangor heroin bust.
But Peter Steele, a LePage spokesman, issued a statement on the comments saying the comments weren’t about race, which he called “irrelevant.”
“What is relevant is the cost to state taxpayers for welfare and the emotional costs for these kids who are born as a result of involvement with drug traffickers,” Steele said. “His heart goes out to these kids because he had a difficult childhood too. We need to stop the drug traffickers from coming into our state.”
Dutson, however, said the implications of the comment are clear, in part because LePage’s statement must be factually wrong.
“So the question is: Why is he making it up?” Dutson said. “The logical conclusion is that he’s trying to incite that dark kind of fear.”
LePage has a history of controversial comments, some of which have involved race. Attendees of a 2013 event in Belgrade reported that he said President Barack Obama “hates white people” and after criticism from the NAACP in 2011, he told them to “kiss my butt.” LePage also invited NAACP representatives to “come to dinner and my son will talk to them,” a reference to his adopted son, Devon Raymond, who is black.
It hasn’t hurt him at the ballot box, though: He won re-election in 2014 behind a campaign that embraced his blunt style.
The Maine Republican Party issued only a one-sentence statement on Thursday, with Jason Savage, its executive director, saying, “We do not respond to attacks from disgruntled former staffers,” a reference to Dutson.
But Clinton spokesman Marlon Marshall said in a statement LePage’s comments “sadly distract from efforts to address one of our nation’s most pressing problems,” drug addiction.
“The Governor of Maine, Paul LePage, is racist,” tweeted DeRay Mckesson, a civil rights activist and alumnus of Bowdoin College in Brunswick.