LePage’s ‘white girl’ remarks are a national sensation. They almost weren’t a story

Well, Gov. Paul LePage is again an overnight national sensation, and how his racial remarks became a story and gave rise to a wave of responses is a story in itself.

Let me recap: At a Wednesday town hall meeting in Bridgton, the Republican said that drug dealers from Connecticut and New York named “D-Money,” “Smoothie,” and “Shifty” come to Maine to sell heroin and “incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave.”

Those names are references to the street names of black men who have been arrested for drug crimes. For example, Dionhaywood “Smooth” Blackwell, 31, of New Haven, Connecticut, who is black, was one of five people arrested on felony drug charges in September after a Bangor heroin bust.

The remarks made national headlines and was condemned by many — including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, which urged New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to renounce LePage’s endorsement for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

The governor’s office said that LePage wasn’t discussing race, but Lance Dutson, a Republican operative who formed Get Right Maine, a group that has opposed the governor, said they played on historic, racist tropes of the sexually aggressive black criminal lusting after white women.

But it took Dutson’s group to make this a story, even though there were multiple media outlets in attendance, including WGME and WMTW.

At the Bangor Daily News, we didn’t hear a word about this Wednesday remark until just before 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, when Dutson issued a press release. The Portland Press Herald ran an initial story citing that release.

But after issuing the release, Dutson said in an email that he hadn’t yet heard the quote, but he had seen a transcription of it. Nobody could confirm it until it ran just after 5:30 p.m. on a public access channel’s live feed. That’s when we went live with a story.

Then, it blew up. The Huffington Post ran a banner headline saying LePage went “full racist.” The New York Times, Vox and The Daily Beast picked it up. What’s amazing is that it almost wasn’t a story at all. — Michael Shepherd

AG’s office confident Libertarian lawsuit will fail

As we reported yesterday, an organization trying to establish a Libertarian Party in Maine has sued the secretary of state’s office, claiming its rejection of an attempt to launch the party last year was unconstitutional.

After that story was published, Attorney General Janet Mills’ office issued a statement saying she expects that lawsuit to fail.

“Maine’s ballot access requirements are reasonable and serve important governmental interests that have been recognized and upheld by the courts in Maine and other states,” the office said. “We expect that the federal court will uphold them in this case as well.”

We may see which way the case goes sooner than later. The plaintiffs plan to file for a temporary injunction next week which, if granted, could revive the chances of a fourth political party in Maine, just in time for the June primary. — Christopher Cousins

Drug bill advances, but issues linger

The $4.9 million bill aimed at Maine’s drug crisis was advanced Thursday by the Legislature’s health and public safety committees with only small changes.

Some of those changes were intended to appease LePage, who threatened to veto it over a provision that handed $700,000 without a bid process to the Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs to establish recovery centers and to deliver education services in schools.

On Thursday, the health committee recommended adding a bid process for any ongoing funding and it widened the geographic scope of a $900,000 proposal to help pay for a detox center — from greater Bangor to northern and eastern Maine.

Those votes kept the plan on a fast track to passage with work session before the Legislature’s budget-writing committee on Friday and next week, but opposition lingered from House Republicans, whose leaders have urged lawmakers to slow the bill’s progress.

Rep. Richard Malaby, R-Hancock, a health committee member who opposed it, said he wants to slow it down, saying this is “not the way the Legislature usually works” and he would have liked to see more in the bill, including money for drug courts, increasing Suboxone prescription and residential treatment beds for addicted and pregnant mothers.

He said he’d likely vote against the bill in its current form, but the changes made on Thursday nevertheless made it “more palatable.”

“It wasn’t a bad bill and we didn’t do bad things,” Malaby said, “I was just looking for a comprehensive package.” — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • LePage also told Howie Carr on Thursday that he’s giving “serious, serious thought” to challenging U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, in 2018. But be mindful: He told Carr this in January 2015 and later dismissed it as a joke.
  • The governor also praised — and criticized — Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, saying while Trump is “pushing in the right direction” and “saying the right things” on issues including immigration, he hasn’t seen “concrete plans” from Trump and doesn’t see how his ideas wouldn’t drive up the national debt.
  • Hadley Britt, a student at Cape Elizabeth High School, got 16 seconds of applause at a New Hampshire town hall meeting this week, according to the Boston Globe. Her question to Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina? “Ms. Fiorina, how do you call yourself a feminist if you are taking away my basic right as a woman to choose what to do with my body?” — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Missouri could make sex between lobbyists and legislators less discreet

A Missouri lawmaker has introduced a bill that would change state law to make sex between lobbyists and lawmakers or their staff members a “gift” reportable to the state ethics commission, according to the Kansas City Star.

It would also exclude sex in marital relationships or relationships started before the lobbyist’s registration.

Participants in the relationship wouldn’t have to assign a dollar value for sex under the bill, thankfully, because it might be awkward if people come up with different tallies, am I right?

I’ll just stop writing now before I get fired. Here’s your (radio-edit) soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.