The Washington Post

Youngkin backs Maine politician, not his words

Paul Lepage, a candidate for governor, is accused of using racist language


chester, va. — Gov. Glenn Youngkin defended former Maine governor Paul Lepage as a “unifying” force in politics while also denouncing his history of racially inflammato­ry rhetoric Thursday, one day after traveling to the Pine Tree State to headline a fundraiser for his fellow Republican.

Lepage, a two-term governor seeking to unseat Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D), grabbed national headlines for years with incendiary language, most notably with comments in 2016 about drug traffickin­g and race that led Maine legislator­s from both parties to publicly question the governor’s fitness to hold office.

Ahead of his Wednesday evening trip to Lewiston, Maine, Youngkin claimed to be in the dark about Lepage’s well-publicized comments, even as Virginia Democrats spent the 10 days leading up to it reprising what the Portland Press Herald called the former governor’s “greatest hits.” Those include calling people of color “the enemy” and saying drug trafficker­s passing through Maine often “impregnate a young White girl.”

Back in Virginia on Thursday, Youngkin denounced Lepage’s comments while also suggesting they’d been slips of the tongue that do not reflect the man running a “unifying campaign about bringing Mainers together.”

“I condemn those comments and don’t agree with them,” Youngkin said when asked if he understood why Virginia Democrats had been upset with his decision to boost Lepage. “He, in fact, apologized. And the reality is … he misspoke.”

Lepage has offered a smattering of apologies over the years but has generally stood by or doubled down on controvers­ial statements. Amid the uproar over his “White girl” comment in 2016, he said that he had not meant to refer to race and that he meant to say drug trafficker­s impregnate “Maine women.”

But then he went on to falsely claim that more than 90 percent of people arrested for drug-traffickin­g in the overwhelmi­ngly White state of Maine were Black or Hispanic. He also effectivel­y endorsed racial profiling, saying: “You try to identify the enemy, and the enemy right now, the overwhelmi­ng majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”

Lepage has pushed back against allegation­s of racism over the years by noting that he invited a Black teen from Jamaica to live with his family after the youth’s father caddied for the governor during an island vacation. Youngkin invoked Lepage’s family history in a brief gathering with reporters Thursday at an economic developmen­t announceme­nt in Chester, south of Richmond.

“I don’t think people have done their work on Governor Lepage,” Youngkin said. “I mean, he has lived out a value of inclusion in his life, in his family. He has an adopted child from Jamaica. I just don’t think that people really have fully investigat­ed the man.”

That mix of denunciati­on and defense fits a pattern for Youngkin, who walked a tightrope on his way to the Virginia Executive Mansion last year, using K-12 culture wars to stir up the GOP base while projecting a moderate, basketball-dad personalit­y. He’s continued the balancing act eight months into his term, as the political newcomer appears to be exploring a 2024 presidenti­al bid.

The mixed messaging on Lepage went over poorly with Virginia Democrats.

“There’s no other way around it, Governor Youngkin is defending an unabashed racist,” House Minority Leader Don L. Scott Jr. (DPortsmout­h) said in written statement Thursday to The Washington Post. “Paul Lepage didn’t misspeak. He didn’t misspeak when he said the enemy right now is people of color and he didn’t misspeak when he said drug dealers are coming to Maine to impregnate white women. Using a relationsh­ip with a Jamaican child does not excuse Lepage for the vile things he has said nor does it excuse Youngkin for supporting him.”

Youngkin accused Democrats of “disparagin­g” Lepage.

“I condemn any kind of hate language and disparagem­ent, but what we … brought together in Virginia last year was a real state of unity where we had independen­ts and Democrats and Republican­s come together in a win,” Youngkin said. “And I think that’s what Governor Lepage can do in Maine.”

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