Leaders in Lowell and Lawrence are blasting Maine Gov. Paul LePage after the controversial Republican put some of the blame for his state's opioid epidemic on black and Hispanic drug dealers from both Merrimack Valley cities, as well as cities in Connecticut and New York.
The fresh criticism of the Maine governor comes as LePage may be reconsidering his political future, including the possibility of resigning less than two years after he was reelected to a second term. LePage told a local Maine radio station WVOM on Tuesday morning that he met with Maine House and Senate Republicans on Monday night after leaving a conference in Boston to discuss his next steps.
"I'm looking at all options," Lepage told the Bangor, Maine talk radio station. "I think some things I've been asked to do are beyond my ability. I'm not going to say that I'm not going to finish it. I'm not saying that I am going to finish it." He later added, "If I've lost my ability to help Maine people, maybe it's time to move on."
He subsequently went on Twitter and posted: "Regarding rumors of resignation, to paraphrase Mark Twain: 'The reports of my political demise are greatly exaggerated.'"
LePage, in Boston on Monday for a conference of New England governors and eastern Canada premiers, doubled down on his assertion made last week that heroin and fentanyl trafficking is being perpetrated in Maine by blacks and Hispanics from out of state, adding Lowell and Lawrence to the list of cities exporting heroin and fentanyl to his state.
He also said he was "very comfortable" with the profane names he called a Democratic Maine state lawmaker in a voicemail after the representative challenged the racial tone of his remarks.
"Apparently he hasn't realized this is an epidemic that has been soaring for decades, affecting every state, neighborhood, family no matter what race, creed or color. To me this epitomizes his ignorance and he owes the people of the cities of Lowell and Lawrence an apology," Lowell City Councilor and former mayor Rodney Elliott said in a statement.
His comments drew a sharp rebuke at the Hynes Convention Center from Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who rattled off incarceration statistics that appeared to contradict LePage's race-based claims.
Lawrence City Council Vice President Marc Laplante, a Republican whose wife is challenging Sen. Barbara L'Italien this election, called LePage's comments "reckless and irresponsible."
"To pin the problem on cities like Lawrence and Lowell tells me he is playing to the cheap seats for cheap political points. In Lawrence, for example, 75% of the opioid drug arrests are from out of towners. Most, by the way, from residents outside Massachusetts. LePage should listen to the experts and note that to successfully address the problem, it must deal with supply, demand, and education across all borders," Laplante said.
Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera also said that the governor should join elected officials like himself in searching for "solutions not scapegoats" to the drug problem.
"The governor would be better off finding a solution for the many people in his State that are in desperate need of detox beds, counseling and treatment. His comments help no one," Rivera said in a statement. "You don't hear us bemoaning the flood of guns bought in ME with its weak gun laws. No we discuss how we can fix our gun problem together. We don't blame anyone."
LePage has said that he keeps a three-ring binder of arrested drug dealers in Maine and has observed "90 percent plus" to be black and Hispanic dealers from places like Lowell, Lawrence, Waterbury, Conn., the Bronx and Brooklyn. While LePage has not backed down from that assertion, he did on Tuesday apologize to Rep. Drew Gattine after leaving a threatening and obscene voicemail message for the lawmaker that he previously said was warranted after he believed Gattine called him a racist. Gattine has denied calling the governor a racist.
Since the episode - just the latest controversy to follow the outspoken governor - Maine Democrats have called on LePage to step down and the governor has faced additional criticism from members of his own party.
"It's not about me. It's about making sure that we can move the state forward," LePage said Tuesday on the radio, according to the Portland Press Herald. "It's one thing to have one party behind (you), it's another thing to not have any party behind you."