Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) did not hold back when he made racially charged comments regarding his state's drug problem at a town hall meeting.
LePage, who is a longtime friend of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and was the first major elected official to endorse Christie for president, addressed Wednesday night the drug trafficking problem in Maine but seemed to blame the issue on people of color.
"… now the traffickers, these aren't people that take drugs," LePage said. "These are guys that are named D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty, these types of guys that come from Connecticut and New York. They come up here, they sell their heroin, and they go home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave. Which is a real sad thing, because now we have another issue that we've gotta deal with down the road. We're gonna make 'em very severe penalties."
LePage held a press conference Friday to "apologize again" and saying he "slipped up."
"My brain was slower than my mouth," LePage said.
In regards to his comments about drug traffickers impregnating "young, white [women]," LePage still insisted this was not racially charged.
"I tried to explain that Maine is essentially all white," he said. "I should have said 'Maine women.'"
Peter Steele, a spokesperson for LePage, defended the governor and insisted the comments had nothing to do with race.
"The governor is not making comments about race. Race is irrelevant," Steele said. "What is relevant is the cost to state taxpayers for welfare and the emotional costs for these kids who are born as a result of involvement with drug traffickers."
Christie, who described LePage's endorsement of him as "an incredible honor," defended the governor on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
"I heard Paul's remarks, and frankly he's apologized for them," he said. "We can't judge people by one set of remarks they make, especially when they apologize and genuinely apologize afterwards."
Christie added that the incident "doesn't change a bit for me, my affection for him, my respect for him as a leader and a person."
Christie has also had a lot to say about LePage in the past. Following LePage's re-election in 2014, Christie said, "Paul LePage is just one of the most decent, honorable people I've ever met — wears his heart on his sleeve, loves his state, has an amazing personal story."
But unlike Christie, many people denounced Steele's insistence that "race is irrelevant," including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
"Governor LePage's comments tonight are not only offensive and hurtful but they try to cover up the very real epidemic of drug abuse facing people in his state and across the country," said Marlon Marshall, director of states and political engagement for Clinton's campaign, in a statement. Marshall also described LePage's words as a "racist rant."
Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc, also denounced the governor's remarks, which are clearly race-related.
"It's absolutely about race because he said 'white girl,'" Visconti said.
Chairman of the Maine Democratic Party Phil Bartlett called the governor's comments "outrageous" and "at best … coded racism."
"Everybody should be denouncing his comments and what they're intended to provoke," Bartlett said. He also called out the Republican Party as a whole for engaging in "pretty overt racist language and imagery rather than talking about the merits of public policy."
At the time LePage announced his endorsement for Christie, Bartlett said this only emphasized Christie's desperation "for media attention," adding, "these two share more than a brash style of governing and a history of corruption, they have the same failed economic records to show for it."
Christie's supporter and friend, who has been governor since 2011, is currently facing other political troubles of his own, including possibly being impeached. He threatened to revoke funding for Good Will-Hinckley, an organization that runs a charter school, after it offered a president job to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves. Eves said of the governor's comments Wednesday that he "should be ashamed of himself" and described the incident as "a terrible example for our children."
"Now more than ever we need leaders that bring us together to work toward making life better for families, not worse," he said. "The governor's crude comments have no place in Maine or any other decent society."
Despite his attempt at an apology, LePage's history of racist comments suggests LePage meant just what he said. In 2013 he said at a Maine Republican Party fundraising event that President Barack Obama "hates white people." The governor denied making the remarks. And in 2011, he said of the NAACP, "Tell 'em to kiss my butt. If they want to play the race card, come to my dinner and my son will talk to them." LePage's son is Jamaican.