Maine Gov. Paul LePage issued a partial apology on Friday after unleashing an obscene tirade on a state legislator, leaving him an expletive-laden and threatening message and telling reporters he wished it were 1825 so he could point a gun "right between his eyes."
"When someone calls me a racist, I take it very seriously," LePage said. "It made me enormously angry when a TV reporter asked me for my reaction about [Rep. Drew] Gattine calling me a racist. It is the absolute worst, most vile thing you can call a person. So I called Gattine and used the worst word I could think of. I apologize for that to the people of Maine, but I make no apology for trying to end the drug epidemic that is ravaging our state."
LePage said that he didn't know Gattine from "a hole in the wall" until Thursday.
Gattine, a Westbrook Democrat, told The Associated Press that LePage sounded unhinged in the Thursday morning voicemail. The governor, known for his bombastic comments, told Gattine that he wanted to talk to him about allegedly calling the governor a racist. Gattine has denied calling LePage a racist.
"I want you to prove that I'm a racist," LePage said in the voicemail, adding that he had spent his life helping black people and calling Gattine a vulgar name related to oral sex. "I want you to record this and make it public because I am after you."
The governor left the message on Thursday morning, after a reporter asked him to respond to critics who have called him racist. LePage asked the reporter who'd called him racist, and while the journalist mentioned he had talked with Gattine, he didn’t say that Gattine specifically called LePage racist, The Portland Press Herald reported.
After leaving the voicemail, LePage later invited reporters to the governor's mansion, where he confirmed that he had left the message and said he wished he and Gattine could face off in a duel.
"When a snot-nosed little guy from Westbrook calls me a racist, now I'd like him to come up here because, tell you right now, I wish it were 1825," LePage said, according to the Portland Press Herald. "And we would have a duel, that's how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be (Alexander) Hamilton. I would point it right between his eyes because he is a snot-nosed little runt and he has not done a damn thing since he's been in this Legislature to help move the state forward."
In a statement Friday, LePage clarified his comments about "going after" Gattine, saying, "I meant I would do everything I could to see that he and his agenda is defeated politically."
The remark about shooting Gattine between the eyes, he said, was just a reference to how political opponents like Andrew Jackson used to call each other out in the 1820s.
"Obviously, it is illegal today; it was simply a metaphor and I meant no physical harm to Gattine," LePage said.
LePage was accused of making racially insensitive comments at a town hall in North Berwick on Wednesday, where he said photos he's collected in a binder of drug dealers arrested in the state showed that 90 percent of them "are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Connecticut; the Bronx; and Brooklyn."
Police said they have already received a citizen complaint about the voicemail. It's unclear if there will be an investigation.
House and Senate Democrats and the Maine Democratic Party on Friday questioned LePage's capacity to lead. LePage's office didn't immediately comment.
Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon said, "the behavior that he is exhibiting shows that he is not fit to govern the state at this time."
She added that there will be increased police protection surrounding Rep. Gattine and his family following the threatening message.
Gattine said he wasn't concerned about his safety, but called the voicemail a distraction and the latest of LePage's personal vendettas against lawmakers. Gattine, who is running for re-election, has clashed with the governor on how to address welfare reform, drug addiction and eligibility for developmental disabilities programs.
The Press Herald, Maine's largest newspaper and a frequent LePage target, posted an editorial online Friday apologizing on behalf of the state for electing LePage.
"Dear America: Maine here," the piece starts. "Please forgive us - we made a terrible mistake. We managed to elect and re-elect a governor who is unfit for high office."
The second-term governor has repeatedly drawn attention for his blunt remarks. He said on the campaign trail that he'd tell President Barack Obama to "go to hell," and then soon after he was elected to his first term he told the Portland chapter of the NAACP to "kiss my butt."
Earlier this year, he drew criticism for comments about out-of-state drug dealers impregnating "young white" girls. LePage later apologized and said he meant to say "Maine" girls, not "white" girls.
Days later, a group of Maine lawmakers sought to impeach the governor over allegations he abused his power by pressuring a charter school into rescinding a job offer to the state's Democratic House Speaker.
He has also previously likened the IRS to the Gestapo, called protesters "idiots" and said a political foe liked to "give it to the people without Vaseline."
Just this week he called Khizr Khan, whose son was killed while protecting other soldiers in Iraq, a "con artist" for criticizing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
LePage has compared his style to that of Trump, whom he supports.
"I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular, so I think I should support him since we're one of the same cloth," he told radio show host Howie Carr in February.