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Maine governor’s remarks spur impeachment drive

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WATERBORO, Maine — Governor Paul LePage has caused trouble with his mouth before. He once said that President Obama could "go to hell," and he has likened the IRS to the Gestapo.

But nothing created the firestorm that followed the Republican governor's complaint last week that out-of-state drug dealers come to Maine and impregnate "young white" girls.

As a result of those remarks, which drew widespread national condemnation, an impeachment measure that's expected to be introduced Thursday in Maine's House of Representatives is gaining momentum, its sponsors said. And even supporters of the two-term governor are shaking their heads.

"That comment was out of line," said Cory Woodsome, a 38-year-old football coach who owns a sports grill in this small town, where voters overwhelmingly backed LePage in his 2014 reelection.

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"I like the guy," Woodsome said. "He says a lot of things that people take offense to, and he doesn't beat around the bush. But he needs to keep the racist part out of it — period."

The leaders of the impeachment effort are hoping that LePage's latest statement — denounced by Hillary Clinton's campaign as "racist rants" but supported by white supremacist David Duke — will attract more legislators who feel that enough is enough.

“That comment was out of line,” said Cory Woodsome, a 38-year-old football coach who owns a sports grill.
“That comment was out of line,” said Cory Woodsome, a 38-year-old football coach who owns a sports grill.Joel Page

"Paul LePage just had his Bill Buckner moment. The ball went through his legs, and it's a whole new ball game," said state Representative Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent from Friendship who is one of nine sponsors of the impeachment order.

"He demonstrated that he is unfit for the office of governor of Maine. He is a national embarrassment, and he has humiliated our state,'' Evangelos said.

LePage tried to walk back from the statement two days later by calling it a "slip-up" in which he meant to say "Maine women" instead of "white" women.

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"I'm not going to apologize to the Maine women for that because if you go to Maine, you'll see that we're essentially 95 percent white," LePage said at the Capitol.

On Wednesday, state Representative Kenneth Fredette, a Republican from Newport who is House minority leader, defended the governor. He told the Globe that LePage might have mistakenly chosen his words because French is the governor's first language.

The impeachment effort is believed to be the first in Maine's history. But neither Fredette nor majority leader Jeff McCabe, a Skowhegan Democrat, thinks the order — the first of several steps toward impeachment — stands a chance of being approved by a majority of the 151-member House.

Fredette said none of the Republicans in the House are expected to support the measure.

"For impeachment to be possible, it'll take bipartisan support," said McCabe, who opposes the order. "That's not just a political reality, that's the actual reality."

However, state Representative Ben Chipman of Portland, the leader of the impeachment movement, said Wednesday that he believes the effort might move forward because of the latest controversy. "I think that changed some people's opinions," Chipman said.

If the measure were to be approved in the House, a bipartisan legislative panel would be appointed to investigate eight "allegations of misconduct" against LePage.

The allegations include using state funds to pressure a school for at-risk youth to withdraw a job offer to Mark Eves, the Democratic speaker of the House, who is suing LePage in federal court over the issue.

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Other accusations include that he used state funds to force the resignation of the president of the state's community colleges and refused to allow Cabinet members and administration officials to testify before legislative committees.

The investigative panel would face an April 1 deadline to report back with a recommendation. If the House then decided to move ahead, the matter would go to trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, where a two-thirds vote is required to impeach.

Considering those daunting mathematics, removing LePage is a long shot if not a fantasy. Whatever its prospects, the move has irritated the governor, who said Tuesday that he would cancel his State of the State speech this year rather than address hostile legislators. Instead, LePage said, he would write a letter.

State Representative Ben Chipman of Portland.
State Representative Ben Chipman of Portland.Greta Rybus for The Boston Globe

A snub of state lawmakers undoubtedly would reinforce the governor's standing among many Mainers who respect him for his bluntness.

"He makes the hard calls. You need someone strong who says what they stand for," said 38-year-old Matt Estabrooks of Waterboro. "I think the people on the other side just want someone who can be pushed over."

LePage's calls to lower taxes and balance the budget resonate with residents who live in the state's poverty-pocked interior, where the governor has drawn the bulk of his support.

Standing outside of JD's Redemption Center, where empty cans are returned, a recovering opioid addict, Mike Moody, gave the governor his endorsement.

"I personally think they made more out of it than they needed to," Moody, 47, said of LePage's remarks. "I think they're out to get him, no matter what he says. Heroin's not coming from Maine, I know that."

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But for some in this town of 7,700, about 30 miles southwest of Portland, LePage has become tiresome — or worse. Outside a market, Robert Bame, an 18-year-old of Puerto Rican descent, deplored the governor's statement about drug dealers.

"You can't blame it on race," Bame said. "But I live with this. I get called names all the time because of the color of my skin."

On the Portland waterfront Wednesday, an employee of J's Oyster said the governor might have been motivated by something other than race.

"I think he knows what image people have of him — and he's just milking it to keep his name in the paper," Andy Gerry said.


Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com.