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Meet New England’s George Wallace: Paul LePage

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Governor Paul LePage of Maine held up a news release with a booking mug shot from a three-ring binder of news releases and articles about drug arrests.
Governor Paul LePage of Maine held up a news release with a booking mug shot from a three-ring binder of news releases and articles about drug arrests.Joe Phelan

Governor Paul LePage of Maine has a binder filled with black and brown people.

Not just any black and brown people, either. In LePage's deeply paranoid imagination, they are the kind of people who trek to Maine to infest his state with drugs and hang around to impregnate impressionable young white Maine girls.

I'm not making any of this up. He unveiled the binder — he'd previously just talked about it — at a press conference Friday. He has commented on the link between black male drug dealers and Maine's innocent white women multiple times, most recently just a few days ago.

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But if you think any of this behavior suggests LePage is a racist, you'd better be prepared for serious blowback. Like the kind he directed toward state Representative Drew Gattine in a phone message that went viral last week.

"This is Governor Paul Richard LePage," the call began. "I would like to talk to you about your comments about my being a racist. You [expletive deleted] I want to talk to you. I want you to prove that I'm a racist. I've spent my life helping black people and you little son of a [expletive deleted] socialist [expletive deleted], You . . . I need you to . . . I want you to record this and make it public because I'm after you. Thank you."

LePage wasn't done. He later said in an interview that he wished he and Gattine could engage in an armed duel to settle their differences. He might be the first governor to wish he could emulate Aaron Burr. He actually invoked the Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton duel in one of his rants, insisting that he would play the role of Burr. (He later said he was speaking "metaphorically," whatever that means.)

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At the risk of a nasty voice mail — or an invitation to a duel — in my future, I will state the obvious: Paul LePage is a racist. He is also a loon, and a terrible governor. Maine's largest newspaper, the Portland Press Herald, published an editorial Friday apologizing for inflicting LePage on America, and calling him unfit for his office.

It's easy to say that LePage is an example of the right-wing anger and hate that have so warped this election season, and maybe he is.

But LePage is not just some fringe character. This guy has been elected governor twice, albeit in races with crowded fields. Nearly 295,000 Mainers voted for him in 2014. He isn't nearly as much of a marginal figure as he should be.

Moreover, his racism and bluster are overshadowing a major tragedy. Like much of the rest of the country, Maine is indeed in the grips of a devastating opioid epidemic. Despite LePage's claims, most of the people arrested for selling or manufacturing drugs in Maine are white. FBI statistics show that of the 1,211 people arrested in 2014, 170 were black. Almost all of the others were white, according a report in the Press Herald.

Instead of figuring out how to grapple with its very real drug problem, the state is instead distracted by some bizarre vision of predatory black men wreaking havoc. What the people of Maine need are drug treatment and law enforcement. Instead, their governor is feeding the state some nutty racist fantasy that helps nothing.

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Maine Democrats have called for LePage to step down, or seek professional help. Both are perfectly valid suggestions. But the first, at least, is unlikely. LePage is only a year into his second term, and there's no sign that he grasps his pathology. There's no indication at all that he is going anywhere.

LePage's rantings call to mind one of his avowed heroes, Donald Trump. Just as Trump seeks to, he has built a political career on hatred and paranoia. That LePage has proved that it's possible to do so is deeply disconcerting.

LePage may compare himself to Aaron Burr, but I think a less fanciful comparison might be more apt.

He's New England's George Wallace.


Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.