PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine's bombastic Republican governor has built a reputation on his unfiltered comments, but his obscene tirade unleashed on a liberal lawmaker prompted Democratic lawmakers Friday to warn that the governor was coming unhinged and to call for a political intervention.
Gov. Paul LePage apologized to "the people of Maine" — but not to the legislator — after he left a voicemail message for Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine that said "I am after you" and then told reporters he wished he could challenge Gattine to a duel and point a gun "right between his eyes."
LePage said the angry outburst was justified because Gattine had called him racist — something Gattine denied.
In Portland, Assistant House Democratic Leader Sara Gideon called for a "political intervention" from members of both parties to ensure either that the governor "gets the help that he needs" or that he's removed from office.
The voicemail followed a controversy that bubbled up Wednesday when LePage, who's white, said at a town hall in North Berwick that photos he's collected in a binder of drug dealers arrested in the state showed that 90 percent of them "are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Connecticut; the Bronx; and Brooklyn." He displayed the binder at a Friday news conference.
"I want you to prove that I'm a racist," LePage told Gattine in the voicemail Thursday, adding that he had spent his life helping black people and calling Gattine a vulgar name related to oral sex. "I want you to record this and make it public because I am after you."
After leaving the voicemail, LePage invited reporters to the governor's mansion, where he said he wished he could turn back the clock so he and Gattine could face off in a duel.
"When a snot-nosed little guy from Westbrook calls me a racist, now I'd like him to come up here because, tell you right now, I wish it were 1825," LePage said, according to the Portland Press Herald. "And we would have a duel, that's how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be (Alexander) Hamilton. I would point it right between his eyes."
Gattine said he was stunned to receive the voicemail. "My first thought after I listened is I'm really glad I'm not in the room. He sounded like if I'd been in the room with him that he'd be attacking me physically," he said.
House and Senate Democrats and the Maine Democratic Party on Friday questioned LePage's capacity to lead. LePage said he would not resign unless several of his political opponents, including Gattine, did as well.
Police in Westbrook said Friday that they had received a citizen complaint about the voicemail. A police official said the complaint came from someone who didn't live in the city. It's unclear if there will be an investigation.
Gattine has differed with the governor on how to address welfare reform, drug addiction and eligibility for developmental disabilities programs. But LePage said Friday that he didn't know Gattine "from a hole in the wall" until Thursday.
Gattine said he wasn't concerned about his safety, but he called the voicemail a distraction and the latest of LePage's personal vendettas against lawmakers. Gattine first shared the voicemail's audio with the Press Herald.
Michael Thibodeau, the Republican president of the Maine Senate, also rebuked LePage, saying it "damages our public institutions when inappropriate comments come from either party."
LePage, whose second and final term of governor ends in 2019, has a history of drawing attention for his blunt remarks. In January, he said drug dealers with names like "D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty" are getting Maine's white girls pregnant. He later apologized, saying he meant to say "Maine women" and not "white women."
LePage has compared his style to that of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, whom he supports, though he recently said Trump was his third choice for president after Chris Christie and Jeb Bush.
"I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular, so I think I should support him since we're one of the same cloth," he told a radio show host in February.
On Friday, LePage doubled down by refusing to personally apologize to Gattine.
Gattine revealed that the governor called him again on his cellphone Friday and left a message challenging him to debate the issues at a town hall-style meeting next week in Westbrook. Gattine said there was no apology on the voicemail.
Associated Press writers Patrick Whittle and David Sharp in Portland contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that LePage said he wished it were 1825, not 1812.