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Proof Governor Paul LePage is Probably a Racist

August 30, 2016

Image: Portland Press Herald

WILL MAINE governor Paul LePage step down after his most recent controverscial statements? No one’s really saying. But the possibility is the talk of the town since he left a controversial possibly calculated dog-whistle to his base voice mail on state Representative Representative Drew Gattine’s machine.

As far as I can tell, here’s how we came to this point.

At a town hall meeting in North Berwick on August 24 LePage said:

“Let me tell you this, explain to you, I made the comment that black people are trafficking in our state, now ever since I said that comment I’ve been collecting every single drug dealer who has been arrested in our state … I don’t ask them to come to Maine and sell their poison, but they come and I will tell you that 90-plus percent of those pictures in my book, and it’s a three-ringed binder, are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Conn., the Bronx and Brooklyn.” [LePage]

To judge the strict factual accuracy of LePage’s statement, we’d need contents of the three-ring binder in order to crunch the numbers on the arrests between, “ever since I said that comment,” (January 6, 2016,) and August 24th. Furthermore, we’d want to confirm the veracity and accuracy of the three-ring binder: does it in fact contain information on “every single drug dealer who has been arrested in our state” in that time period? And we’d want to spend a little time in LePage’s head: is he quoting a hard number, 90%, or is he relating the impression he had after flipping through the binder of mug shots? To be fair, Americans do apparently often overestimate the proportion of blacks and hispanics in the population.

But you can’t just let the Governor of the state off on a technicality. The image LePage is putting out there by talking about ‘D-Money, Smoothie, and Shifty knocking up white Maine girls,’ and now the unfounded ’90-plus percent’ figure, is that non-whites from away are the main villains responsible for the drug problem in Maine. He’s even gone as far as to say, “I tell ya, everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry … Load up and get rid of the drug dealers. Because, folks, they’re killing our kids.” [source] So he’s playing a dangerous game here, painting a picture of what a drug dealer looks like– putting a profile out there –and then calling on vigilantes to commit murder.

So of course LePage is taking heat. He became enraged when he heard that a State Rep had called him a racist. The Representative, Drew Gattine, claims to have never called LePage a racist, but that he instead said, “that the kind of racially charged comments the governor made are not at all helpful in solving what the real problem is…” [source.] But whatever Gattine actually said, LePage’s reaction led him to leave this voicemail in response:

“Prove I’m a racist,” LePage challenges.

Well ok.

First, as discussed above, LePage is promoting an image of black and Hispanic drug dealers plaguing Maine and corrupting our young white women. One of the oldest, racistist tropes in the book.

Second, LePage has not provided the data to back up the image he’s promoting, namely his 90-plus percent figure. What’s more, the data that is available, does’t bear LePage’s depiction out:

Data like what purportedly are in LePage’s binder are hard to come by: Spokespeople for the Maine court system and the Maine Department of Public Safety said the agencies don’t keep records of the races of people charged with drug crimes.

But 301 — or 70 percent — of the 430 state prison inmates convicted of any type of drug trafficking self-report as white, according to data provided Friday by the Maine Department of Corrections. Another 98 — or 23 percent — self-report as black.

That total is disproportionate in Maine, which is 95 percent white. Figuring out why blacks are overrepresented, however, is tricky.

On one hand, police have said that out-of-state gangs are a piece of the drug trade here. But on the other, a 2015 study from the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine found racial bias in Maine’s juvenile justice system.

Either way, LePage’s thesis is wrong, reducing a complicated public health and crime problem to a caricature. [Bangor Daily News]

LePage is either lying intentionally to paint blacks and Hispanics as the bad guys, or he’s willfully ignorant of the actual figures and potential racial biases at work in the state’s criminal justice system. What type of person would be thus untruthful, or so blind?

Then again, maybe LePage has access to data that the courts, the Department of Public Safety, and police agencies don’t even track. Maybe he’s telling the truth. If so, maybe he should produce the data and prove he’s not a racist.

There is an underlying issue here. Using the Department of Corrections Prisoner Search service, at the time of this writing, we find of 9155 total adult prisoners and probationers in the Maine Department of Corrections system, 8089 (or 88%) have a race/ethnicity of white. Though not as pronounced as the 70% white among those incarcerated for drug trafficking, the overall numbers are still out of whack when compared to census data which shows the state population to be 95% white. The Bangor Daily News article quoted above mentions a Muskie School of Public Service study that a found racial bias in Maine’s juvenile system. When the dust from all of this political grandstanding settles, will the likes of LePage and Gattine allow the adult justice system go unexamined?

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