Maine Governor Paul LePage apologized on Friday for an obscenity-laced voicemail he left for a lawmaker who he believed had called him a racist for remarks he made about drug dealers.
The incident followed a town hall meeting on Wednesday during which LePage said he kept a binder with photographs of drug dealers arrested in Maine and more than 90 percent of them were black or Hispanic, the Portland Press Herald reported.
The governor's remarks triggered a barrage of criticism from political figures and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
LePage left the voicemail message for State Representative Drew Gattine after a television reporter said the lawmaker was among several people who had called the governor a racist.
According to a recording of the message obtained by the Portland Press Herald, LePage said in the message, “Mr. Gattine, this is Gov. Paul Richard LePage. I would like to talk to you about your comments about my being a racist, you cocksucker. I want to talk to you. I want you to prove that I’m a racist.
“I’ve spent my life helping black people and you little son-of-a-bitch, socialist cocksucker. You … I need you to, just friggin. I want you to record this and make it public because I am after you. Thank you.”
The governor later told local reporters that he wished he could settle the dispute with Gattine by means of an armed duel.
Gattine did not respond immediately to calls for comment. He told the Press Herald that LePage's voicemail was "uncalled for" and that he never said the governor was a racist.
An editorial in the Press Herald, speaking for the state's voters, said Maine apologized to America for electing, then re-electing a "governor who is unfit for high office."
After the voicemail became public, LePage issued a statement apologizing to Maine citizens for calling Gattine "the worst word [he] could think of" in the voicemail.
The governor defended his choice of language by saying the remarks were "simply a metaphor" that harkens back to the 1820s when political opponents "used to call each other out."
"I meant no physical harm to Gattine," LePage said in the statement.
It is not the first time LePage has found himself the subject of controversy.
Earlier this year, he said that drug dealers "come up here, they sell their heroin and they go home. Incidentally, half the time, they impregnate a young white girl before they leave."
He later said the comment was a "slip-up" and that he meant to say that drug traffickers get "young Maine girls" pregnant and that most residents of Maine are white.
Also in January, LePage told Maine gun owners they should "load up and get rid of the drug dealers."
(Reporting by Chris Prentice; Editing by Andrew Hay)