01:15 - Source: CNN
Governor defends racial comments

Story highlights

Maine governor blames drug epidemic on men with names like "Shifty" and "D-Money"

Says dealers come from out of state, then "impregnate a young, white girl before they leave"

Clinton campaign calls comments "racist rants"

CNN —  

Less than 48 hours after using racially-charged language to explain his state’s drug epidemic, Maine Gov. Paul LePage at a Friday news conference semi-apologized for his wording “slip-up” but accused the press of trying to twist his words.

“I made one slip-up,” LePage conceded. “I may have made many slip-ups. I was going impromptu in my brain, didn’t catch up to my mouth. Instead of saying, ‘Maine women,’ I said, ‘White women.’ I’m not going to apologize to the Maine women for that because if you go to Maine you will see we are essentially 95 percent white.”

Later he clarified, “If I slipped up and used the wrong word, then I apologize to all the Maine women.”

Alluding to one of the “Rocky” movies, LePage told reporters at the press conference, “Yous don’t like me and I don’t like you.”

“You’re in the back pocket of Maine bloggers,” he continued, referencing the site that first highlighted his remarks. That blog, called Get Right Maine, is run by Lance Dutson, a Republican operative.

Asked at a town hall meeting on Wednesday night what his administration was doing to combat the state’s drug issues, LePage referenced new legislation aimed at traffickers, then delivered his roiling explanation.

“These aren’t the people who take drugs,” LePage said, in comments first picked up by the Portland Press Herald. “These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty. These type of guys. They come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, then they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we’ve got to deal with down the road.”

LePage denied using names like “Smoothie” for their racial connotation.

“What’re they, black?” he said. “I don’t know if they’re White, Black, Asian, I don’t know,”

He also rejected the suggestion that race played any role in his reference to “a young, white girl.”

On Thursday, a spokesman for LePage, Peter Steele, said the governor wasn’t discussing race.

“The governor is not making comments about race. Race is irrelevant. What is relevant is the cost to state taxpayers for welfare and the emotional costs for these kids who are born as a result of involvement with drug traffickers. His heart goes out to these kids because he had a difficult childhood too. We need to stop the drug traffickers from coming into our state,” Steele said.

LePage, a Republican, has been a controversial figure in Maine for years.

In 2011, he once famously told unhappy members of a local NAACP chapter to “kiss my butt.”

Clinton campaign condemns “racist rants”

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign called LePage’s comments “racist rants.”

“Governor LePage’s comments tonight are not only offensive and hurtful but they try to cover up the very real epidemic of drug abuse facing people in his state and across the country,” Marlon Marshall, the director of states and political engagement for the Clinton campaign, said in a statement.

“LePage’s racist rants sadly distract from efforts to address one of our nation’s most pressing problems,” added Marshall, a top African-American staffer on the Clinton campaign.

LePage has endorsed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the GOP presidential nomination.

Christie, who chaired the Republican Governors Association during LePage’s successful 2014 re-election bid, has described his colleague from Maine as “a great friend” and called his backing “an incredible honor.”

In an interview with CBS the day after LePage’s 2014 victory, Christie described him “as just one of the most decent, honorable people I’ve ever met – wears his heart on his sleeve, loves his state, has an amazing personal story.”

Christie’s campaign did not respond to CNN requests for comment. But on Saturday, NBC News reported that Christie stood by the Maine governor, saying, “we can’t judge people by one set of remarks they make.”

“It doesn’t change a bit for me my affection for him, my respect for him, as a leader and as a person, and he’s a good man. And he’s apologized,” Christie told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski in an interview set to air Monday on “Morning Joe.”

CNN’s Cassie Spodak, Jeremy Ryan and Dan Merica contributed to this report.