maine governor paul lepage shifty d money_00001412.jpg
Governor defends racial comments
01:15 - Source: CNN

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Maine Gov. Paul LePage returned to controversial remarks about the race

LePage said he'd collected files on arrests in the state that backed up his claims

CNN  — 

Maine Gov. Paul LePage rekindled a months-old controversy Wednesday night when he told a town hall that “90-plus percent” of drug dealers arrested in Maine “are black and Hispanic people” from states like New York and Connecticut, according to a report.

LePage was following up on remarks he’d made during a different town hall in January that had provoked a round of sharp criticism.

At that January event, speaking about crime and opioid abuse in his state, LePage had made offensive comments about what he said were out-of-state drug dealers “with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty,” who he said “sell their heroin” and “impregnate a young white girl before they leave.” Condemnation for his remarks quickly followed from both local politicians and national media.

But according to a report from the Portland Press Herald, LePage returned to the controversial remarks at Wednesday’s town hall, now purporting to have evidence to back up his claim.

Answering a question from an attendee who mentioned his past remarks, LePage bristled and said he’d been collecting files on every drug dealer arrested in Maine since the controversy, and that his records showed that “90-plus percent” are black or Hispanic.

“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,” LePage said.

“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, Connecticut, the Bronx and Brooklyn.”

CNN was unable to verify LePage’s claim that “90-plus percent” of drug arrests were of black or Hispanic individuals, as the Maine Department of Public Safety doesn’t publish statistics on drug arrests that are broken down by race, and 2014 is the last year for which data is available. A review of drug arrests in the state in general rose by 1.3% between 2012 and 2014, but did not include a breakdown by race.

CNN has reached out to the governor’s office to provide the specific information that LePage was referencing and has not yet gotten a response.

When the attendee argued that the disproportionate amount of blacks and Hispanics being arrested might be due to racial profiling by Maine’s police, LePage shot back: “There are a whole lot of white girls, too. A whole lot of white girls.”

“In fact,” he continued, “almost every single picture is a white Maine girl in the picture.”

The governor also rejected the suggestion that his comments were racist. “I have helped many, many families – in fact, I even brought a black person into my family,” LePage told the attendee. “Nobody wants to give you the real story, but the fact of the matter is, sir, I am not a racist.”

LePage has been a lightning rod for controversy during his tenure as governor and his unconventional style of politics sometimes mirrors the approach of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Despite supporting Ted Cruz during the GOP primary, LePage has become increasingly involved with the Trump campaign. He offered Trump a strong endorsement in February, and Lauren Lepage, the governor’s daughter, was hired by the campaign as the coalitions director in the state this week.

While Maine is nestled among a set of reliably Democratic states in New England, the state splits its electoral votes (joining Nebraska as the only states to do so). The upper half of the state is much more rural, conservative, and white than the rest of the state or the region – presenting a ripe opportunity for Trump to pick off an electoral vote.

CNN’s Naomi Lim contributed to this report.