Maine Governor Paul LePage, no stranger to inflammatory and offensive remarks, delivered a doozy Wednesday night. Maine, like many northeastern states, is facing a serious heroin problem. And LePage knows who to blame:
The traffickers—these aren't people who take drugs. These are guys by the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty. These type of guys that come from Connecticut and New York. They come up here, they sell their heroin, then they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave. Which is the real sad thing, because then we have another issue that we have to deal with down the road.
LePage’s spokesman told the Portland Press Herald, “The governor is not making comments about race. Race is irrelevant,” a statement that would be easier to credit if LePage hadn’t specifically stipulated “impregnat[ing] young, white girl[s]” in his statement. And on Friday, when he tried to clarify his remarks, he only dug a deeper hole: “I tried to explain that Maine is essentially all white. I should have said ‘Maine women.’”
There is a long history of white leaders exploiting fear of miscegenation and dilution of white blood, but typically that’s associated with the postbellum South rather than 21st-century Maine.
Another problem with LePage’s comments: They’re not just offensive, they’re not especially accurate. As Philip Bump wryly pointed out, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency arrested three white Mainers for trafficking heroin the same night that LePage made his comments.* A black man from Connecticut nicknamed Smooth was arrested on heroin charges in September, along with four white Mainers.
Although the National Drug Intelligence Center has not conducted a report on Maine for nearly a decade, its 2003 report fingered mostly white dealers. “Caucasian criminal groups, local independent dealers, and abusers are the primary transporters of heroin to Maine,” getting their supply not from Connecticut or New York, but Massachusetts. In addition, “Caucasian criminal groups, local independent dealers, and abusers are the principal retail-level heroin distributors in Maine.” The state is more than 94 percent white, and most users in the current epidemic also seem to be white.
“Basically, everyone I see is white, they’re equally male and female, they’re younger and affluent—a very different demographic,” Sarah Wakeman of Massachusetts General Hospital told the The Boston Globe last year. Critics who have called for a public-health approach to drugs—rather than a law-and-order one—argue bitterly that it’s only now that drugs are ravaging white communities, rather than black ones, that many governments see the wisdom of that approach.
LePage is no stranger to offensive, racist comments. In 2013, he told a group of Republican lawmakers that President Obama “hates white people,” which they found sufficiently offensive that several told the press, even though they are in LePage’s party. He also refused to attend Martin Luther King Day celebrations, calling the NAACP a special interest.
On other fronts, LePage compared the IRS to the Gestapo, accused a Democrat lawmaker of being “the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline,” and wished aloud that the Press Herald building would blow up. Despite these comments, he managed to win reelection in 2014, thanks in part to a split three-way race. Last summer, he botched a veto, attempting to reject a bill after it had already been enacted into law. But LePage clearly doesn’t feel constrained by the bounds of facts and reality; why should he have to answer to time, either?
* This article originally implied that the suspects were allegedly bringing heroin from the country of China, rather than from China, Maine. We regret the error.