Former Maine Gov. Paul LePage speaks at Colby College in Waterville on Wednesday. Credit: Steve Mistler | Maine Public

Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage used his first major public appearance since leaving office to try to reframe his eight controversial years as Maine’s governor — and to continue teasing a possible run in 2022.

Student protestors stood along the walls of Colby College’s Ostrove Auditorium quietly holding signs that — among other things — quoted LePage’s incendiary statements about immigrants and the racial makeup of drug dealers.

Those statements made national headlines at the time, and continue to follow the former governor as he contemplates taking on his replacement, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, three years from now.

LePage used his hour-long remarks to push back against that legacy. And he did so mostly by blaming the press.

“This thing about bigotry and bigots and racists — I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” LePage said. “You read newspapers, and the newspapers think I’m a racist. And, you know, you can think whatever you want.”

Similar remarks denying responsibility for his past comments, while also asserting indifference, were common throughout LePage’s speech, which came at the invitation of the Colby College Republicans.

The governor also rehashed arguments for various initiatives that he either accomplished or failed to pass during his two terms.

The event was mostly civil, at times drawing applause and laughter from the audience. And it will likely stir speculation that the former Waterville mayor is eager to return to the state Capitol — and the spotlight.

On that count, LePage suggested he’s strongly leaning toward another run — a suggestion he has made repeatedly since leaving office in January.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.