Paul LePage Is Back! | The Nation

Portland, Me.—On a cloudy spring morning, Maine’s ex-governor, 73-year-old Paul LePage, journeyed to the heart of his state’s largest, most diverse, and most progressive city to preside over the opening of a new Multicultural Community Center. Wearing a lavender shirt and slacks, LePage wooed liberal Mainers, declaring that he wanted to make Maine “inclusive to all new citizens,” that he loved talking to immigrants about the countries they came from, and that he hoped his state would roll out the welcome mat and tell new arrivals “We love you.”

There was a surreal quality to the speech, given the many anti-immigrant comments LePage had made during his eight years as a far-right Tea Party–affiliated Republican governor, from January 2011 until 2019. This is the man who, in his two terms in office, fired up his base by telling them that the country was at war against immigrants—especially Hispanic immigrants and, more generally, immigrants of color—and that in a war you shoot first and ask questions later. At the height of the panic about the mosquito-borne Zika virus, the governor announced that asylum seekers were bringing the “ziki fly” with them. Though LePage grew up in the historically oppressed French-speaking community of Maine, he failed to acquire any empathy for the underdog as a result. Instead, he became a major supporter of Donald Trump’s campaign promise of a border wall, his subsequent assault on immigrants’ rights, and his proposed travel ban aimed at Muslim immigrants and visitors.

Now, in 2022, LePage is running for governor again. In his effort to return to the office he vacated in 2019, he’s trying to soften his image on issues like immigration to appeal to a broader audience. Watching the charade unfold at the opening, 73-year-old Edgar Allen Beem, a longtime columnist for the Portland Phoenix and myriad other newspapers, was stunned. “It was a cynical appeal from a politician who’s always been anti-immigrant,” Beem says. “He, like a lot of Republicans, is very good at putting a happy face on horrors. He’ll tell you he balanced the budget, set up a rainy-day fund. What he doesn’t tell you is, more kids went hungry and fell into poverty. He dismantled the Department of Health and Human Services; it’s still not been built back up.”

It’s easy to do a recitation of LePage’s greatest hits, and not just on immigration: He declared that drug dealers, who he had at one point averred were Black and brown and coming up from New York to plunge white Mainers into addiction, should be beheaded. He refused to attend a breakfast commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. and then told a reporter who asked about it that the NAACP could “kiss my butt.” He challenged Democratic politician Drew Gattine to a duel, called him a “cocksucker,” and said he would shoot him between the eyes after Gattine allegedly called him a racist. He gratuitously vetoed legislation banning conversion therapy for gay Mainers—legislation pushed by Democratic Representative Ryan Fecteau, who would go on to become the youngest state House speaker in the country—even though the bill had won support from Republicans in the senate and similar bills had been signed by his fellow Republican governors in New Hampshire and New Jersey.

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