Maine governor’s claim that 90 percent of drug dealers are ‘black or Hispanic’ is unsubstantiated

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Monday released his informal documentation on drug arrests and they don’t back up his claim that out-of-state blacks and Hispanics account for “90-plus percent” of Maine’s trafficking arrests for heroin and similar drugs.

LePage’s claims at a town hall meeting in August were met with skepticism, but he insisted he had collected news clippings supporting his statement. Media organizations then requested the contents of the three-ringed binder under the Maine Freedom of Access Act.

An Associated Press analysis of the Republican governor’s documents show black and Hispanic defendants from out of state comprised no more than about one-third of the arrests for heroin and opioid-derived drugs in LePage’s binder.

The governor’s 148-page binder wasn’t a scientific sampling of drug arrests and he didn’t capture a comprehensive list of such arrests. It included mostly news clippings from Maine newspapers and press releases issued by the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Also, the race of many who were arrested was unclear based on the documents.

The governor’s office stood by LePage’s remarks but said the governor wants to move on. His spokeswoman noted that the governor’s real concern is working with law enforcement and lawmakers to find ways to stop the state’s drug epidemic, not getting mired in statistical details.

“The governor is going to still deal with the drug problem here in our state,” LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said. “We’ll continue that fight.”

Maine and the rest of New England are dealing with an epidemic of addiction and deaths associated with heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioids. In 2015, Maine experienced a record high of 272 overdose deaths.

Alison Beyea, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said it was outrageous that governor relied on incomplete data when he had multiple agencies at his disposal.

“The governor greatly exaggerated the percentage of people arrested for dealing drugs who are black or Hispanic,” she said. “He then used his false claims as the basis for calling people of color the enemy. Whether or not his assertions were deliberately misleading, they were dangerous and racist.”

LePage began collecting newspaper clippings about drug arrests in January after being criticized for saying out-of-state drug dealers were impregnating “young white” girls.

He created a firestorm with his racially charged remarks at a town hall meeting in August, saying 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.”

WMTW reports on the town hall in which Maine Governor LePage claimed that 90 percent of arrested drug dealers are “black and Hispanic.”

Then he added to the controversy by leaving an obscenity-laden voicemail for a state lawmaker who criticized the governor’s comments.

African Americans in Maine, the nation’s whitest state, feared LePage’s comments would strengthen racial stereotypes and endorse racial profiling.

Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said some of LePage’s comments, including those about out-of-state drug dealers from the cities of Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts, were “inappropriate and unnecessary.” Baker added that he thinks New England’s governors normally enjoy a strong relationship about issues related to addiction and drug trafficking.

No law enforcement officials have stepped up to back up the governor’s statistical claims, and a state police spokesman said the news releases that the governor relied upon don’t represent a comprehensive list of Maine’s drug arrests.

In later explaining himself, LePage described Maine’s problem of opioid addiction in terms of war, saying it’s important to identify the enemy and then to attack the enemy.

“Look, the bad guy is the bad guy, I don’t care what color he is,” LePage said two days after the town meeting. “When you go to war, if you know the enemy and the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, then you shoot at red.”

Associated Press writer Bob Salsberg in Boston contributed to this report.