AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Republican Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday he intends to seek "spiritual guidance" in hopes of quieting a controversy he created when he left an obscene message on a Democratic lawmaker's voicemail and then said he wished he could challenge him to a duel and point a gun at him.
As top Democrats continued their calls for LePage's resignation, a fissure has emerged between House and Senate Republicans over whether the self-described straight talker is taking enough responsibility for his remarks and whether legislative action should be ruled out.
The governor also has gotten an earful from top Republicans across the country, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
"He said, 'What the hell are you doing?'" LePage told WLOB talk radio.
LePage said he's had "long chats" with Christie and Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott.
LePage apologized to the Democratic lawmaker, state Rep. Drew Gattine, and later blamed the media for fueling the fight. He also denied claims by some legislators that his seemingly erratic behavior was caused by addiction or mental health issues.
"I'm not an alcoholic. I'm not a drug addict. I don't have mental issues," he said. "What I have is a backbone, and I want to move Maine forward."
LePage, a second-term governor, said he doesn't intend to talk to the media anymore, a claim he has made before.
In recent days, legislators have called for LePage to step down or get professional help after his remarks to Gattine and comments he made blaming blacks and Hispanics for Maine's heroin epidemic. LePage, who's Roman Catholic, responded Wednesday by saying he wouldn't resign and instead intended to seek "spiritual guidance." He didn't elaborate.
The Republican leader of the state House, Ken Fredette, said LePage is accepting responsibility for his actions, and he urged lawmakers to focus on November elections and LePage's reform agenda. Maine GOP Chairman Rick Bennett echoed such sentiments and said the governor's words, though "politically and socially unacceptable," are not an impeachable offense under the state constitution.
But Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau said he's "struggling" with whether LePage is taking enough responsibility. He said "any one of us" would be unemployed after leaving such a voicemail and added he asked LePage to seek professional counseling.
Thibodeau said he'll poll his caucus and talk to Democrats to see if "this is the end" for any possible punishments for LePage, who has evaded discipline for previous political missteps.
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said, "Maine won't stand for inaction." He asked supporters to call Republican lawmakers to push for LePage's resignation.
Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond said he remains unconvinced LePage can lead and called for bipartisan leaders to discuss a special session.
About 200 state residents gathered Wednesday in Gattine's hometown, Westbrook, to rally for decency and to call for civil discourse. The city initially was going to host a town hall meeting with LePage at a teen center, but the host cited space concerns and the event was canceled.
Last week, the governor 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 go back in time and challenge Gattine to a duel and point a gun "right between his eyes." LePage said he was angry because he believed Gattine had called him a racist, something Gattine denied.
LePage apologized on Tuesday, saying his behavior was "unacceptable," and met with Gattine on Wednesday. Gattine said that despite the apology he thinks LePage should resign.
LePage denied using "racially charged language" and issued no apology for his remarks blaming out-of-state blacks and Hispanics for fueling Maine's heroin epidemic, despite contradictory FBI data. He said he keeps photos of drug dealers arrested in his state in a binder and it shows 90 percent of them are blacks and Hispanics from Connecticut and New York.
Previously, LePage has complained about out-of-state drug dealers named "D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty" impregnating young white girls and associated a rise in infectious diseases with immigrants without providing data. He has blamed liberals for inserting race into his comments and distorting his meaning.