LEWISTON — Gov. Paul LePage frequently warns reporters and others he is not politically correct. But LePage’s penchant for poking fun at his own Franco-American heritage and roots has some Maine Francos seeing rouge.

Earlier this week LePage said that the veto process laid out in the Maine Constitution is very clear. He then added, “Even I can understand it and I’m French.”  

It was the second reference to his heritage in the past two weeks but among dozens of such comments the governor has made in public and in private. His supporters insist the comments are nothing more than LePage’s style of self-deprecating humor.

Last week, he told reporters in Augusta that lawmakers were misusing a word and added, “That’s coming from a Frenchman.” 

LePage, a native of Lewiston, home to the state’s largest population of Franco-Americans, said French is his first language. He has used it in making powerful statements in both official and unofficial settings.

“I should also thank my Franco-American colleagues for their support,” LePage said in French during his 2015 inaugural address, after winning his second term as governor. “I am a child of the streets of Little Canada, and I never imagined that one day, I would become your governor. But, you took charge, and we did it. I have never forgotten where I came from, and I will never forget the support you’ve given me.”

But some see the governor’s recent negative comments about being French as bracing up old and misguided prejudices and stereotypes against Franco-Americans that have taken decades to dismantle.


State Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, took to his Twitter account Thursday to note his displeasure with LePage’s negative references to being French.

“(Continued) belittling of Francos tiresome, tactless, not funny,” Libby tweeted. “Enough already.”

Libby said Friday that LePage’s sense of humor didn’t resonate.

“There are lots of folks in this community who have worked for many years to dispel these types of comments,” Libby said. “It’s just not funny.”

Former legislator Judy Ayotte Paradis of Frenchville in northern Maine said LePage is “reinforcing the stereotype of the dumb Frenchman.” 

About 4 percent of Mainers speak French, the largest percentage in any New England state, while in Lewiston about 15 percent of the population is French-speaking.


Mitch Thomas, executive director of Lewiston’s Franco Center, told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network that he and the center’s supporters did not want to lecture LePage, but his comments were counter to the center’s biggest mission: to celebrate the state’s French heritage, culture and language.

Thomas said Friday that many of the center’s members discussed the issue during a French-speaking luncheon that’s held each Thursday.

“It definitely came up,” Thomas said. He said LePage’s local Franco-American supporters “love him” and are probably not going to disown him for his gaffes but that his comments do bother them.

“I wouldn’t care who it was, politics aside, if someone is doing that, we would not like it,” Thomas said.  

He said the idea that the state’s top leader sees no harm in bashing an entire culture sets a poor example and opens the door for discrimination against other cultures, as well.

“You just don’t call a whole group of people stupid,” Thomas said. “The people who we represent here at the Franco Center have worked hard to move away from stereotypes and casting aspersions on people who — just because they spoke a different language or they come from a different culture — to infer they might somehow be intellectually inferior is wrong and we’ve worked against that.”


The Franco Center is based in a former Catholic cathedral in the city’s Little Canada neighborhood, where LePage spent much of his youth.

The governor held his reception there on Election Day in 2014 when he won his second term. Thomas said that while some are disappointed and hope LePage will refrain from more “self-deprecating” humor that paints Francos in a poor light, they also appreciate it when LePage positively highlights his culture and roots.

“We do appreciate what the governor has done for elevating Franco-Americans in this state, as a leader, as someone who is a governor who is clearly Franco-American and who grew up in this neighborhood and this community,” Thomas said. 

Peter Steele, a spokesman for LePage, said complaints about the governor’s sense of humor were being overblown by the “liberal media” and stories about a concern within the entire Franco community were overblown and based only on the word of two of LePage’s political opponents. 

“Gov. LePage came from the streets of Little Canada and made it all the way to the Blaine House,” Steele said. “He is grateful to the people who helped him get there, and he is very proud of his Franco-American heritage. The people of Maine know he often uses humor when speaking publicly — even if the media doesn’t get it — and they turned out in record numbers to re-elect him. The very definition of self-deprecating humor means he is poking fun at himself, not the Franco-American community.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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