AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage denied on Tuesday that he told donors at a GOP fundraiser that President Barack Obama “hates white people.”
The governor’s administration has refused to talk to the Bangor Daily News about the alleged comments and said the governor had spoken with reporters around noon. A video posted Tuesday by WCSH, the Portland NBC affiliate, showed the governor leaving his office and brushing reporters off.
“I never said that, and you guys are all about gossip,” LePage said in the video.
Someone who attended the event told the BDN on Monday that the governor made the comment during remarks critical of the Affordable Care Act, the president’s health care reform law, at a party fundraiser in Belgrade on Aug. 12.
“It was a typical, off the cuff, off the script, Paul LePage comment,” one attendee, who preferred to remain anonymous because of fear of political reprisals, told the Bangor Daily News on Monday.
LePage’s alleged statement about Obama also was confirmed by two Republican lawmakers who were at the event, according to the Portland Press Herald, which first reported the allegation.
Sources close to the governor have avoided questions about whether LePage made the statement. LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, and communications director, Peter Steele, on Tuesday refused to answer questions about the remarks.
During an appearance on The WGAN Morning News on Tuesday morning, LePage political adviser Brent Littlefield — who was not at the fundraiser — worked hard to avoid saying whether the governor made the statement. He also would not say whether he had asked the governor directly about the comment, although he was pressed repeatedly by the show’s hosts. Littlefield told the Bangor Daily News on Monday that he was “not aware of any specific comments” made by the governor.
The GOP fundraiser also was meant to serve as a welcome party for Rick Bennett, newly elected chairman of the State Republican Party.
Bennett has confirmed the governor spoke about the president and about race.
“[LePage] said President Obama had an opportunity to unify the country on race, but didn’t do anything,” Bennett said Monday. When asked whether the governor remarked about the president and white people, Bennett said, “I didn’t hear that.”
Other attendees interviewed by the BDN said they didn’t hear the governor say anything offensive but also said they were not present for all the governor’s comments.
“I never heard him say anything like that,” said Lisa Fortier, who hosted the fundraiser at her home with her husband, John. “I was in the kitchen. I was feeding everybody. I never heard the comment that people say he made.”
Also present at the party was Maine House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, who said he was “in-and-out” of the fundraiser and didn’t hear the comment in question.
Most other lawmakers remained quiet on the issue. Representatives for Maine’s Republican lawmakers said legislators would refrain from commenting on what may or may not have happened at a private event.
“This was at a private fundraiser, said in someone’s home, and we’ll have to refer to the governor’s office about what was said,” said Jim Cyr, spokesman for Maine Senate Republicans, on Tuesday. “I think the setting matters. This was in somebody’s home in an event that wasn’t open to the public.”
David Sorensen, spokesman for Maine House Republicans, also said those legislators “would not comment on unsourced remarks.”
Meanwhile, some Democrats called on the governor and their Republican counterparts to speak up.
“There’s a lot of good Republicans who need to screw up a little courage,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant. “We don’t need further condemnation of Paul LePage. That’s happened in great volume over the past three years, but it’s time for others to stand up and say, ‘This is not who we are.’ I think it would be great to see that from the GOP.”
It would not be the first time the governor had made controversial comments involving Obama. During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, LePage told a group of fishermen that if he were elected, “You’re going to be seeing a lot of me on the front page, saying ‘Governor LePage tells Obama to go to hell.’”
In 2011, shortly after LePage’s inauguration, he told the NAACP and other critics to “kiss my butt” after the group criticized the governor for not attend a ceremony commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.