AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage is apologizing to “the people of Maine” for leaving a vulgar voicemail for a Democratic legislator and says he was using a metaphor when he said he wished he could challenge the lawmaker to a duel and point his gun “right between his eyes.”

LePage said in a written statement Friday that he takes it “very seriously” when someone calls him a racist and that it made him “enormously angry” when he heard from a reporter that Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, had called him one.

LePage says being called a racist is “the absolute worst, most vile thing you can call a person.” So he says he referred to Gattine as a vulgar name involving oral sex because it was the “worst word” he could think of.

The governor then held a news conference Friday in Augusta where he again defended himself for leaving the vulgar voicemail  on Gattine’s phone.

LePage said Gattine calling him a racist was more offensive than anything he said in response.

Gattine denied calling LePage a racist. He said he referred to LePage as making racially charged statements.

When a reporter asked LePage if being accused of making “racially charged statements” was the same as being called a racist, he said “Yes.” 

At a separate news conference in Portland, Assistant House Democratic Leader Sara Gideon called for a “political intervention” from members of both parties to either ensure that the governor “gets the help that he needs” or that he’s removed from office.

Gideon says LePage’s behavior is inappropriate for “any human being who’s functioning normally in society.”

Gattine said he wasn’t concerned about his safety, but he called the voicemail a distraction and the latest of LePage’s personal vendettas against lawmakers. Gattine shared the voicemail’s audio with the Press Herald.

“The fact is he sits around fantasizing about having duels with legislators or obsessing over the race of people who are arrested for crimes,” Gattine said.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said in a statement that it’s “embarrassing” that LePage is contributing to the “steady loss of civility in politics.” Michael Thibodeau, the Republican president of the Maine Senate, also rebuked LePage, saying it “damages our public institutions when inappropriate comments come from either party.”

LePage left the message that said:

LePage called Gattine and said, “I’ve spent my life helping black people and you little son-of-a-bitch, socialist c**ksucker,” said LePage, according to audio of the call. “I want you to record this and make it public because I am after you.”

Later Thursday, he told reporters he wished he could point a gun between the legislator’s eyes:

“When a snot-nosed little guy from Westbrook calls me a racist, now I’d like him to come up here because, tell you right now, I wish it were 1825,” LePage said. “And we would have a duel, that’s how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be (Alexander) Hamilton. I would point it right between his eyes, because he is a snot-nosed little runt and he has not done a damn thing since he’s been in this Legislature to help move the state forward.”

In his statement and conversation with reporters Friday, LePage said he meant he would go after Gattine politically. “I meant I would do everything I could to see that he and his agenda is defeated politically,” he wrote.

When he talked to reporters about a duel, LePage said he was speaking metaphorically.

LePage was accused of making racially insensitive comments at a town hall in North Berwick on Wednesday, when he said most of the drug dealers arrested in the state are black or Hispanic.

He defended those statements Friday by showing the three-ring binder he had of newspaper articles that showed black and Hispanic suspects arrested on drug charges.

When asked if police were targeting only people of color for drug arrests, LePage laughed and said mostly white people were the ones getting Narcan to counter drug overdoses.

“Look, a bad guy’s a bad guy. I don’t care what color he is,” LePage said. “You try to identify the enemy. And the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”

LePage, in his second and final term as governor, has a history of drawing attention for his blunt remarks. In January, Paul LePage said drug dealers with names like “D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” are getting Maine’s white girls pregnant. He later apologized, saying he meant to say “Maine women” and not “white women.”

LePage has compared his style to that of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, whom he supports, though he recently said Trump was his third choice for president after Chris Christie and Jeb Bush.

“I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular, so I think I should support him since we’re one of the same cloth,” he told a radio show host in February.

LePage this week called the father of a dead Muslim U.S. Army captain a “con artist” for criticizing Trump. LePage’s daughter Lauren has been hired by Trump and vice presidential candidate Mike Pence to work as the state’s coalition director for their campaign.

This story will be updated.

WARNING: Obscene language used

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