Former governor Paul LePage speaks to the media after the grand opening the Maine Republican Party held for its new multicultural center in Munjoy Hill in Portland on Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Former Gov. Paul LePage came to the heart of Portland on Tuesday to open a Republican multicultural center and declare himself a friend to immigrants, saying Maine needs them to come here to work, start new businesses and grow the state economy.

“We are looking forward to making Maine inclusive to all new citizens,” LePage said during a two-minute speech at the grand opening. “I particularly love talking to people about their different countries. We welcome you. We love you.”

He reminded the crowd that packed into the tiny Munjoy Hill office about his French Canadian ancestry, and that he grew up speaking English as a second language. He closed his public comments by promising administration jobs to the volunteer staff if he wins election in November.

But Democrats, who vastly outnumber Republicans in the city, dismissed the move as an election year attempt to rewrite LePage’s political record and issued a reminder of some of the offensive things LePage said about immigrants during his two terms in office.

Democrats referred to LePage telling the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” calling people of color and immigrants “the enemy,” claiming asylum seekers bring diseases to Maine and supporting former President Donald Trump’s immigration ban.

“Opening a campaign office during an election year isn’t going to erase the harm that Paul LePage has done to new Mainers or make them forget who he really is, what he stands for and what he thinks of them,” Democratic Party Chairman Drew Gattine said in a written statement.


Reporters peppered LePage with questions about his record on immigrants after the event. He told them that much of it has been distorted. He said he has always been pro-immigrant – so long as they “come in the front door, not the back.”

“I endorse and I love refugees,” LePage said. “What I have a problem with is with fentanyl coming in, human trafficking coming in. That part of the southern border I have a real, real problem with, but the people coming in, I endorse them and I love them.”

Former Maine governor, who is the Republican candidate for the race this year, Paul LePage, hugs Jocelyne Ininahazwe, of Biddeford, after speaking at a grand opening held by the Maine Republican Party for the new MEGOP Multi-Cultural Center in Portland on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Ininahazwe, who is originally from Burundi, said it was her first time meeting LePage. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

And he wants them to vote, he said, as long as they have proper identification. He doesn’t consider that to be a problem for a new Mainer because he wants the state to give all citizens a voter ID card. Given Maine’s budget surplus, now’s the time to do it, LePage said.

He wants Congress to fix the country’s antiquated immigration laws to make it easier for “good people” to legally come to Maine and begin working right away rather than having to wait 18 months to get a job, often relying on taxpayer-funded public resources to live while waiting.


Meanwhile, immigrants who will be staffing the center in the former F.O. Bailey Real Estate office in Munjoy Hill praised the Republican party for promoting personal, political and market freedoms, and the belief that less government is almost always better than too much.


After he became a naturalized citizen, center vice chairman Aqeel Mohialdeen registered as a Democrat because the party’s rhetoric made him feel welcome in America. But he switched parties after reading about Republican policies while earning his political science degree at the University of Southern Maine.

“I come from Iraq, where the government controls every part of your life,” Mohialdeen said. “Your job. What you can do in your free time. You have to hang a picture of the president in your house. I came to America to be free of all that. I realized that I wanted freedom more than I wanted to feel good.”

He said the idea for the center came from conversations that he and Suheir Alaskari, the chairwoman, had with Maine Republican Party Chairwoman Demi Kouzounas at a business workshop. Kouzounas, a first-generation immigrant from Greece, grew up in Munjoy Hill and felt a connection with the new Mainers.

Former Maine Governor Paul LePage speaks during a grand opening held by the Maine Republican Party for the new MEGOP Multi-Cultural Center in Portland on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. LePage is flanked by Suheir Alaskari, chair of the center, right, and Aqeel Mohialdeen, vice-chair, left. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

The Maine Republican Party is hoping the center can help it make inroads into the Democratic Party’s liberal base, using voter education and mobilization to establish a foothold in new Maine communities, or at least force Democrats to spend time and money holding on to that constituency.

While some organizers struck a conciliatory tone during their public remarks, saying that Republicans need to stop being so angry all the time because it drives newcomers away, others depicted national political debate in this country as a fight between the forces of good and evil.



“There is one side that is anti-god, with the critical race, with the sexual perversion, with the wholesale slaughter of innocent life,” Pastor Travis Carey of Calvary Chapel Greater Portland said before blessing the center. “There’s another platform, the one that we’re here to represent, with biblical values.”

The center will provide political training to amplify immigrant voices in the Portland community and throughout Maine, and also will offer job training, one-on-one career coaching, immigration assistance and language classes.

The number of active Republican voters in Portland is growing – from 5,528 in 2014 to 6,246 in 2018 to 6,844 in 2022 – but is still just a fraction of the Democratic voting bloc, which in 2022 numbers 36,451. That makes Portland a friendly place for top-of-the-ticket Democrats and a tough spot for Republicans.

Former Maine governor Paul LePage shakes Ahmed Jasim’s hand before at the grand opening for the new MEGOP Multi-Cultural Center in Portland on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

LePage said Tuesday that he and the Republican Party would like to come to Portland more often, but complained they are often times shouted down by the crowd and are made to feel unwelcome. But that hasn’t been the case with the new Mainer community in this election cycle, he said.

When asked for comment, Gov. Janet Mills’ campaign spokeswoman focused on her candidate’s record.

“The governor has always believed in and valued the contributions of new Mainers,” Alexandra Raposo said. “As attorney general and now as governor, she has worked to make Maine a welcoming state that provides opportunity for hardworking people who want to contribute their talent, energy and skills.”

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