PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — With a well-earned reputation for blunt rhetoric, Maine Gov. Paul LePage stirred outrage again when he likened the Internal Revenue Service to the Gestapo, prompting calls for a public apology.
The governor made the remark in his weekend radio address as he assailed the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld President Barack Obama's health care law, saying the decision "made America less free" and gave Americans no choice but to buy health insurance or "pay the new Gestapo — the IRS."
Democrat Ethan Strimling, a political commentator and former state senator, said the Gestapo remark represents language that's "racially charged and ethnically tinged."
"I'm hoping that he just didn't understand the significance of those words and that he'll take them back and apologize. There are lots of ways to have an honest debate about health care, which I think people want to have, without walking down this path," Strimling said.
The Anti-Defamation League's regional director called the governor's remark "hurtful and inappropriate."
"The governor should immediately apologize for his remarks and demonstrate an understanding of why they are offensive to all who value civil discourse. Comparisons to the Nazi police force have no place in modern politics or anywhere else," Derrek Shulman said in a statement.
The Gestapo was Adolf Hitler's secret police in Nazi Germany and it was ruthless in its pursuits, which included assisting the Nazi SS in rounding up Jews.
Monday afternoon LePage's office issued a brief statement explaining the remark.
“It was not my intent to insult anyone, especially the Jewish Community, or minimize the fact that millions of people were murdered," LePage said in the prepared statement.
"Clearly, what has happened is that the use of the word Gestapo has clouded my message . . . " LePage said. "We no longer are a free people. With every step that Obamacare moves forward, our individual freedoms are being stripped away by the Federal Government. This should anger all Americans.”
LePage previously made headlines by telling the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to "kiss my butt," calling protesters "idiots" and referring to state government middle managers as "corrupt." He even said he'd tell Obama to "go to hell" because of federal regulations affecting commercial fishermen.
But this time, the governor's remarks weren't off the cuff, indicating that he put more thought into his words before saying them aloud. Many felt that he went too far.
Strimling was joined in a bipartisan rebuke by his fellow commentator, Republican Phil Harriman, with a joint statement in which they asked for an apology.
Robert Bernheim, executive director of the Holocaust & Human Rights Center of Maine, urged caution in applying Nazi terms to democratic institutions and political decisions in America.
"For the governor, in a prepared statement, to equate the work of the IRS to a criminal organization like the Gestapo in order to enhance his criticism of the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold so-called Obama Care reflects ignorance of history at best," Bernheim said in a statement.