LePage deserves censure for his racist comments

Unfortunately I made the mistake of listening to the news on the radio on this glorious Friday morning. I quickly followed this mistake with another by turning on the computer immediately after. The story of the week is everywhere, kicking up a nasty hullabaloo in the state and nationally.

Gov. Paul LePage said yet another incredibly insensitive generalization presented as fact and laced with divisive implications that equate to a poor representation of our state and its residents.

The quote getting all the attention happened and was recorded at a town hall meeting in Bridgton Wednesday. Referring to the drug problem and out-of-state dealers coming to Maine, LePage went freestyle for a moment and said, “Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road.”

He just had to stick the word “white” in there. And as usual he refrained from sticking any evidence into his gross generalization.

There’s no way to avoid the fact that, by sticking the word “white” in there, LePage brought race and all its baggage into his comment. It doesn’t matter whether he intended to do so or not because either way he was throwing gas on a fire that our state and our nation need to tamp down for our communities’ survival.

Gov. Paul LePage, pictured in Portland in June 2015. (Troy R. Bennett | BDN)

Gov. Paul LePage, pictured in Portland in June 2015. (Troy R. Bennett | BDN)

For me LePage’s recent comment is highly offensive, but still slightly less offensive than his Vaseline rape comment in 2013. I wish I had been blogging back then because I would have done a post about having zero tolerance for inappropriate rape references. Vulgarities are fine, and I tend to enjoy a little political incorrectness in my humor as long it is poking fun rather than being of a pejorative nature.

Inappropriate rape references, though? Zero tolerance, be they random comments, jokes or commercialized depictions. Whenever someone asks me why, I say rape survivors know why, so people able to ask “why” should consider themselves blessed. As one young rape survivor said to me once, “Sometimes it feels like there are worse things than being killed; there’s surviving things you shouldn’t have to survive.”

She wasn’t the only rape survivor I’ve known to articulate such thoughts.

Personally, I think LePage’s ugly comments warrant censure more than his other questionable antics. I know if I had been a legislator in 2013, I would have wanted him censured for his rape comment. At the time, his administration circulated a transcript that quoted a Democratic legislator making a similar reference two years prior.

Rather than apologizing, LePage took the easy way out and offered a justification, a childish response looking for the proverbial, “and if so and so jumped off a bridge does that mean you should to?” He should have just apologized and should apologize for this most recent statement. Heck, he has me wanting to apologize for him.

He owes an apology to all non-whites because of the implications of his statement, but perhaps more importantly, he owes an apology to all the women and girls in our state. There are no statistics I am aware of that support the idea that half of all out-of-state drug dealers impregnate Maine girls while they are here, but there are ample statistics that suggest something is going wrong for women and girls in Maine. One needs look no further than at arrest statistics.

A 2014 report compiled by the USM Muskie School of Public Service (click here) highlights the following trends for the years 2003-2012:

  • The share of female juvenile arrests has steadily increased over the last 10 years as male juvenile arrests have declined.
  • Girls continue to comprise a greater share of juvenile arrest totals than women do of adult arrest totals.
  • The percentage of female arrests increased for the 10th consecutive year.
  • Over the last 10 years, arrests of adult females increased 15.1 percent compared with a 6.5-percent decline in adult male arrests.

The report also talks about overall increases in drug and property crimes and paints a troubling picture for increasing numbers of females in our state. Making up facts about who is impregnating our white girls how often is easy. Ignoring real facts that indicate more and more Maine women and girls are struggling to such an extent that they are finding themselves in criminal situations is also easy.

Things like apologies, facts and actual solutions to real problems are much harder for our governor, and the frequent absence of these things show the genuine flaws in his leadership.

End note: To any out of stater who might read this post or who has been following the story of our governor’s latest outrageous comments, I am a mixed-race person who moved to Maine as a small child and have lived here more than 40 years. Easily more than 99 percent of my experience suggests that Maine is not a racist state. Please do not fall prey to the idea that our governor’s conduct is reflexive of a majority of Mainers, which unequivocally has not been my experience.

Further, please do not fall prey to the idea that, because he won two gubernatorial elections, most Mainers are racist. Many circumstances likely contributed to his two victories at the ballot box, including a third-party challenge, a backlash to the influx of out-of-state money on the Democratic side, and, in my opinion, a growing sense of disappointment with the lack of direction in our state Democratic Party.

I don’t know how true it is, but it helps me to make sense of things to think that his victories were, at least on some level, more about not supporting the Democrats (who were at the helm, ignoring the aforementioned arrest rates and drug problems when they were percolating) than about supporting LePage.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.