AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday said a Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Troy Jackson of Aroostook County, “claims to be for the people but he’s the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline.”
LePage also said that Jackson has a “black heart” and that he should go back in the woods and cut trees “and let someone with a brain come down here and do some good work.”
Jackson, a logger by trade, responded by saying that though he’s often at odds with the governor, the chief executive’s bluster doesn’t bother him.
“I don’t think I have a black heart; most people know I have a good heart,” Jackson said Thursday afternoon. “I don’t have any problem with anyone saying anything about what I stand for. He can say whatever he wants; I just think it’s inappropriate the way he said it. We can be disagreeable without making nasty comments like that.”
LePage’s comments, which he made to a handful of reporters following a rally against new taxes Thursday morning in the State House, came after Jackson told reporters that the governor’s claims that legislative leaders have refused to talk to him about the biennial budget were “delusional” and “inaccurate.”
“If I get a little upset with Troy Jackson, who sits up in Aroostook County and does nothing for Maine people, look, this man this year tried to take my pension away, tried to sell the Blaine House, then he realized he didn’t own it, that’s the kind of guy he is. Let’s get beyond that and bring me someone that really wants to talk,” LePage said. “People like Troy Jackson, they ought to go back into the woods and cut trees and let someone with a brain come down here and do some good work.”
Jackson said worse things have been said about him.
“I don’t know if it’s where I’m from or the way I speak or something, but it comes up that maybe I’m not the smartest guy,” said Jackson. “I don’t know if I am or not. Maybe I am the country bumpkin, but that doesn’t bother me. What’s in my heart is good and I feel comfortable about that. I’ll go back in the woods any time I have to. That’s where I made my name in my district. … I feel comfortable that my district supports that.”
Jackson had criticized the governor earlier in the day for being unwilling to compromise or at least negotiate with legislative leaders.
“He just keeps going on with things that don’t seem to be accurate and [are] delusional,” said Jackson. “When he talks about working class people, I think that I represent working class people because that’s who I am. People I know very well are concerned very much about what the governor’s budget is going to do to them.”
Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, defended Jackson and condemned LePage’s comments.
“We don’t condone that on the schoolyard. We don’t condone that at the kitchen table. Surely we don’t condone that from our governor,” said Goodall. “This is just a really disappointing day.”
But LePage said disappointment has been something he has dealt with throughout his term in office and that too many lawmakers from both parties “look at this as a game.”
“It’s so frustrating when you put yourself out there and you want to help people and they don’t want to,” said LePage. “This is the problem with Maine and the federal government, they think of this as a game. They look at this as, ‘OK, we’ll beat them.’ It’s not about beating them. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about allowing Maine people to become more prosperous. It’s about getting yourself out of 50th place.”
Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, called LePage’s comments “obscene” in a prepared statement.
“Gov. LePage’s language today crosses a new line, even for him,” said Eves. “I would not want my children to hear those vulgar comments from the highest official in our state on the evening news.”
Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, reacted with dismay.
“In the midst of a heightened awareness of and fight against the culture of rape that is rampant in the United States, it is unacceptable that the governor of our state would make public comments such as those made by Gov. LePage earlier today about a state senator,” said Townsend in a written statement. “It is more than just being crass. To make a public statement about rape as a metaphor for political disagreement is disrespectful to victims of sexual assault and feeds into our society’s dangerous rape culture.”
LePage spokesman Peter Steele said the governor did not intend to make any link to the issue of sexual assault.
“No governor has fought more to eradicate domestic violence than Governor LePage,” said Steele. “He has zero tolerance for any kind of assault on women. To equate his remark to a ‘rape culture’ goes beyond sensational.”
The administration also distributed a transcript on Thursday of a 2011 Senate debate in which Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, made a similar comment about Vaseline, which was quickly objected to by a Republican senator and the Senate president.
LePage was asked by a reporter whether he was concerned that his comments about Jackson would be seen as offensive.
“Good,” said LePage before ending the interview by walking away. “It ought to because I’ve been taking it for two years.”