Maine Governor Paul LePage (R) is facing a wave of criticism for making what many have deemed racist comments during a town hall meeting, leading to calls for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a strong LePage ally, to denounce the controversial politician.
“These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty—these types of guys—they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home,” LePage said, speaking Wednesday at a Bridgton town hall meeting about the state’s problems with drugs.
“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 have to deal with down the road,” he continued.
Phil Bartlett, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, condemned LePage’s comments during an interview with the Portland Press Herald, saying that “at best [the comments] were coded racism.”
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“Everybody should be denouncing his comments and what they’re intended to provoke. I would call upon all Republicans to stand up and say this is wrong and it’s not acceptable in our public discourse,” Bartlet said. “It’s simply indefensible.”
LePage reportedly denied the racial connotations of his statements during a Friday morning press conference.
“I get a report, and they’re saying his street name ‘D-Money,’ street name ‘Smoothie.’ I don’t know where they’re from,” LePage said, according to Talking Points Memo. “I know where they’re from, I don’t know if they’re white, black, Asian, I don’t know.”
He went on, “If you want to make it racist, go right ahead and do what you want.”
The high-profile relationship between LePage and Republican presidential candidate Christie has added another layer of controversy to the statements.
Christie, as the head of the Republican Governors Association, campaigned to help reelect LePage in 2014, and according to the New York Times, their mutual support led the Maine governor to become the the first elected official to endorse Christie for the Republican nomination.
Now Christie is facing pressure to distance himself from his ally and renounce LePage’s endorsement.
“Paul LePage’s comments are disgusting, racist, and represent the worst form of conservative politics—one that plays to the darkest elements of the Republican Party’s base,” DNC Director of African American Media Michael Tyler said in a statement. “By remaining silent, Gov. Christie condones LePage’s racist comments and his worldview. If Chris Christie has a single ounce of integrity, he’ll immediately renounce Gov. LePage’s endorsement. Anything short of a full repudiation of LePage’s endorsement will send a clear message to the American people that Republicans are more interested in emulating Donald Trump than in serving—and respecting—all Americans.”
LePage is no stranger to controversy, having made waves for overseeing a drastic decline in food assistance efficiency that led the the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to notify Maine officials that they were breaking the law with their low response times and lack of data on the program.
The governor came under fire early last year for blaming undocumented immigrants for spreading diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, and in 2011 for telling the NAACP that if it didn’t agree with his decision to turn down an invitation to an event to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it could “kiss my butt.”
LePage has faced the suggestion of impeachment over allegations that the governor threatened to withhold more than a half a million dollars in state funding from an organization if the group did not revoke a job offer to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.
Maine lawmakers expect to formally move ahead with a measure to impeach LePage next week, the Huffington Post reports.