LePage’s ‘white girls’ apology was definitely not an apology

I listened to the press conference that Gov. Paul LePage held Friday to discuss his infamous “slip of the tongue” about drug dealers and white girls in Maine. Thank you to MPBN for making the entire audio available. Click here for the link.

I wanted to blog about it immediately and posted that very morning that I thought he should apologize. It took me a few days of processing to get the rest of my thoughts together.

So I Googled the definition of apology and was reminded it has two meanings: 1) “a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure;” and 2) “a very poor or inadequate example of.”

I’m thinking LePage hit a double on this one, as in his apology was an apology of an apology. 

Here’s a soundtrack I’d offer LePage if he were reading this post:

For starters, how hard would it have been to start with “I’m sorry”? LePage could have just said, “I’m sorry I used a poor choice of words the other night, but I’d like to explain.”

Instead, he started by expressing his dislike for attending media representatives. The “I’m sorry” part should have been given precedence over his feelings about the way the situation played out.

LePage went on to minimize his own conduct, maximize the conduct of others (the media and bloggers — LOL on the bloggers part), and struggle greatly to isolate the two words just about everyone was waiting to hear without qualifiers or attacks: I’m sorry. 

I am sensitive to the circumstances of LePage’s childhood and applaud his ability to make good on the investment of support others gave him in his youth by getting where he is today. And I truly believe LePage cares about Maine. Which is why it is so disappointing that he seems unable to see his caring, like his apology, is extremely selective and full of qualifiers.

Further, I greatly appreciate the extent to which he champions in his rhetoric the causes of ending domestic violence and the addiction epidemic. However, there is more to ending domestic violence than just ending the “beatings, beatings, beatings” to which LePage referred. There’s more, too, to ending addiction than just the 10 drug enforcement agents (for which he was right to ask).

There’s supporting victims and those afflicted with addiction with a strong set of social services, and there’s using language that is respectful and not inflammatory. The psychological effects of rhetoric leave bruises of their own.

Whether LePage meant white or Maine girls, depicting us as mindless twits unable to save ourselves from becoming impregnated by big, bad out-of-state drug dealers is disrespectful, inflammatory and fails to move our discourse in a direction that addresses the real issues I identified in my previous post.

At his press conference, LePage stated adamantly that he wasn’t going to apologize to Maine women, but thank goodness he gave an apology later in his comments, I think, for referring to us collectively as white.

But he didn’t apologize for his portrayal of us as victims of drug dealers or for the reality that using the word “white” brought race and all its baggage and national attention into the discussion. It doesn’t matter whether it was intended or not; LePage’s “slip of the tongue” warranted a straight up “I’m sorry” to women and nonwhites.

When LePage spoke about the addiction epidemic, he made it sound like he alone has championed fighting the addiction epidemic without help from the media or the legislature. True, he called for increasing our drug enforcement ranks by 10 in 2014. He referred to the legislature’s failure to do so immediately upon his request in such a way that seemed to hold them partially culpable for some of the overdose deaths that have happened since.

The problem with that line of thinking is, it turns out the LePage administration was able to find the funding for more agents without help from the legislature. If spreading culpability is the name of LePage’s game, there’s plenty to spread around.

LePage also said the legislature was behind on increasing education efforts as part of combating the epidemic, but he said little about the treatment side of the equation. He made a vague reference to developing a program for inmates with addiction or mental illness in our county jails. He offered no ideas for treatment of people with addiction or mental health problems before they become incarcerated.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage speaks at the 23rd Annual Energy Trade and Technology Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, November 13, 2015.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage speaks at the 23rd Annual Energy Trade and Technology Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, November 13, 2015.

Why didn’t LePage address the shortage of treatment beds and recovery services as a critical component of ending the epidemic? Why didn’t LePage address the fact that the police officials from Scarborough running Project Hope testified at a legislative hearing that their biggest expense was sending addicted people out of state for treatment? Why didn’t LePage address the fact that one of the many barriers to treatment that legislators heard about at that hearing is lack of insurance?

In 2014, the LePage administration changed eligibility for MaineCare, which means, not only has Maine not expanded access under the Affordable Care Act, but the caseload was dramatically cut. There’s no denying the decrease in and lack of federal funds through MaineCare must be correlative to the lack of available treatment for addiction. In 2015, Mercy Hospital, a cornerstone in addiction treatment in Maine, closed its inpatient facility for budget reasons, including increasing expenses in charity care. 

MaineCare expansions bills have been passed five time by the last two legislatures and vetoed each and every time by LePage. While implying that legislators should feel guilty for contributing to overdoses by not bolstering law enforcement fast enough, LePage overlooks his own culpability on the treatment side of the equation.

How many overdose victims sought but were unable to access treatment at some point due to lack of insurance? How much of the charity care that crippled Mercy’s program could have been billed to federal funds under different eligibility criteria for MaineCare? Whether you talking women, race or addiction, LePage’s apology only seemed to highlight the need for more apologies.


Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

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