AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Outspoken Republican Gov. Paul LePage, amid political pressure and calls for his resignation, on Tuesday suggested he might be considering stepping aside but hours later seemed to reject the idea, tweeting, "The reports of my political demise are greatly exaggerated."
Meanwhile, House Republicans gathered in Augusta to figure out potential punishments for LePage over his latest crisis, involving his racially charged comments about drug dealers, while about 1,000 people rallied near the Blaine House to call for him to quit.
"Governor, please get some help," said the longtime head of the Maine NAACP, Rachel Talbot Ross.
LePage, who already had a tempestuous relationship with lawmakers, has been criticized in recent days for an obscene voicemail he left for a Democratic legislator and for blaming minorities for the state's heroin crisis. Democratic lawmakers have warned that LePage was coming unhinged and called for a political intervention.
The Republican leader of the state House, Ken Fredette, said his caucus is against LePage's conduct but doesn't support holding a $43,000-a-day special session to consider censuring or impeaching him.
LePage, speaking Tuesday on WVOM-FM radio, apologized for his tirade last week against Rep. Drew Gattine and said it was "unacceptable." He said he intends to make amends, and he's scheduled to meet with Gattine on Wednesday. But he told WSCH6-TV he thinks Gattine owes him "a little bit of an apology."
He seemed to toy with the idea of stepping down as governor, saying if he has lost his ability to convince Maine residents he's the right person for the job then "maybe it is the time to move on." When asked by WGME-TV hours later about whether he was considering resigning, he said, "I am looking at every option available to my family."
But a tweet later in the day seemed to rule out resignation: "Regarding rumors of resignation, to paraphrase Mark Twain: 'The reports of my political demise are greatly exaggerated,'" LePage wrote.
Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond called the tweet backpedaling and an example of LePage's "erratic" and "troubling" behavior.
On Aug. 25, LePage left a foul-mouthed voicemail message for Gattine that said in part, "I am after you," and then he told reporters he wished he could challenge Gattine to a duel and point a gun "right between his eyes."
LePage said at the time his reaction was warranted because he heard Gattine had called him a racist, something Gattine has denied.
Previously, the governor complained about out-of-state drug dealers named "D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty" impregnating young white girls and blamed a rise in infectious diseases on immigrants without providing data.
LePage has blamed liberals for inserting race into his comments and distorting his meaning.
At a town hall in North Berwick on Aug. 24, he said he keeps photos of drug dealers arrested in the state in a binder and said it shows 90 percent of them "are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Connecticut; the Bronx; and Brooklyn."
LePage said his repeated mentioning of the race of drug traffickers is relevant because when you go to war "you shoot at 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.
He said heroin traffickers are mostly minorities while whites are largely responsible for methamphetamine crimes.
In 2014, according to the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Service, 1,211 people were arrested for selling or making drugs in Maine and 170 were black.
There are signs of exasperation with LePage's conduct among Republicans and Democrats alike. But any possible ramifications for LePage, who has repeatedly avoided punishment and retained his base of political support, are unclear.
Fredette and Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau met with LePage on Monday. Leaders had earlier called for "corrective action" on LePage's part but didn't elaborate on what that might be.
Fredette said LePage is addressing his behavior and lawmakers must discuss more pressing issues ahead of the November legislative election. He said LePage must sincerely apologize to Gattine.
Democratic House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe said LePage has crossed a line but he and other lawmakers may reconsider their calls for resignation if the governor agrees to seek professional help for his behavior and outlines a treatment plan.