Maine governor says will not resign amid racism flap

August 31, 2016 9:15 AM EDT

FILE PHOTO -- Maine Governor Paul LePage speaks at the 23rd Annual Energy Trade and Technology Conference in Boston, Massachusetts November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl/File Photo


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By Scott Malone

(Reuters) - Maine Governor Paul LePage said on Wednesday he would not resign and was seeking spiritual advice after unleashing an obscenity-laden voicemail message on a political rival, as state lawmakers mulled whether to vote to censure the Republican.

The famously combative two-term governor apologized for the second day straight to the people of Maine and to state Representative Drew Gattine after calling the Democrat a "little son-of-a-bitch, socialist cocksucker" in a voicemail message that has been widely circulated.

"I will not resign," LePage told reporters in his office in the state capital, Augusta, a day after discussing the possibility in a radio appearance.

LePage's angry voicemail followed an exchange with a newspaper reporter who asked about comments the governor had made blaming black and Hispanic people for the heroin trade in the Northeastern state. The reporter named Gattine as someone who had raised concerns about the comments, although both agree the Democrat never called the governor a racist.

The voicemail ended with LePage urging Gattine to share it widely "because I am after you."

After meeting with Gattine on Wednesday, LePage said: "He never called me racist. He said I made racially comments. Maybe in my mind it is semantics but in his mind after talking to him it was clear that there was a real difference."

LePage, whose term runs through 2018, said he "will be seeking spiritual guidance with my wife and my children."

'GASOLINE ON THAT FIRE'

The Republican-led state Senate is still deliberating whether to call a special session to vote to censure LePage, said Majority Leader Michael Thibodeau.

"We can't continue to have the explosiveness that we've seen and so we're in hopes that he's going to find a way to correct that," said Thibodeau, who would take over as governor if LePage stepped down. "We live in a time in America when racial tensions are high and we don't need to be throwing gasoline on that fire."

Republicans in the state's Democratic-led House of Representatives said they accepted LePage's apology and were ready to move on.

But House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat, called for a meeting of lawmakers to discuss LePage's resignation or removal from office.

"The governor's comments today do nothing to address his increasingly erratic behavior that demonstrates he is unfit to lead," Eves said in a statement.

LePage on Tuesday morning mused on stepping down, saying he was not necessarily committed to finishing his term and adding: "It's one thing not to have one party behind you, it's another thing not to have any party behind you."

Hours later, he changed his tune, paraphrasing Mark Twain as he tweeted: "The reports of my political demise are greatly exaggerated," before trying to change the subject with messages on a visit to a tissue factory.

"Maybe my temperament for the poor and the underdog is over the top but I'll live my life that way. I'm comfortable fighting for the underdog," LePage said. "I'm just not a very good politician."

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by James Dalgleish and Peter Cooney)



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