Tuesday, May 21, 2013
AUGUSTA -- Gov. Paul LePage exercised his own editorial judgement when he described the IRS as the "new Gestapo" during his recent radio address. However, the governor acknowledged Monday that his reference to the Nazi secret police force "clouded" his message about the federal health care law.
In this file photo, Gov. Paul LePage speaks during the Republican Party State Convention on May 6, 2012.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer
In this Friday, April 27, 2012 photo, Gov. Paul LePage talks about his sense of humor while holding a poster that reads "There is a bully in Augusta pushing around seniors, children and middle class families," during an interview with the Associated Press at his office at the State House in Augusta. Critics are putting pressure on LePage to apologize for referring to the Internal Revenue Service as "the new Gestapo" during his radio address Saturday.
The governor's written statement on Monday stopped short of a public apology, which had been demanded by national and local Jewish groups. However, Emily Chaleff, director of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, said LePage called her to apologize personally for his remarks.
At the same time, LePage told WMTW-TV in an interview Monday that "It was never intended to offend anyone, and if someone's offended, then they ought to be goddamned mad at the federal government."
Monday's events marked the third day of a controversy that garnered national media attention about a comment that LePage personally added to his weekly radio address.
Adrienne Bennett, LePage's communications director, often writes the governor's radio message. That was the case last week; however, Bennett said the governor inserted the Gestapo reference after she and staff members finished editing it. Bennett said the comment initiated a "healthy dialogue" among staff members, but it remained in his prepared remarks when LePage recorded the address on Friday. It was not ad-libbed during recording.
The detail adds context to the governor's remark. Some of LePage's opponents originally believed that the administration cleared the comment to spur opposition to a health care law that divides the American public.
The governor said in today's written statement that it was not his "intent to insult anyone, especially the Jewish Community, or minimize the fact that millions of people were murdered."
He added, "Clearly, what has happened is that the use of the word Gestapo has clouded my message. Obamacare is forcing the American people to buy health insurance or else pay a tax."
The "Gestapo" comment was a reference to a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires Americans not insured by their employers or Medicaid to buy health insurance or pay an annual penalty when filing their tax returns. The provision, known more broadly as the individual mandate, was the subject of a multi-state lawsuit. Maine was a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The mandate was upheld recently by the U.S. Supreme Court.
LePage said during his radio address, which aired Saturday, that the court decision has "made America less free."
"We the people have been told there is no choice," he said. "You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo -- the IRS."
The Gestapo was Nazi Germany's official secret police under Adolf Hitler, who imprisoned and murdered millions of people during World War II.
Anti-Defamation League New England Regional Director Derrek L. Shulman said LePage's statement on Monday was "disappointing and insufficient."
"The statement doesn't demonstrate an understanding or recognition that a comparison between a Nazi police force and a modern governmental agency have no place in modern politics or anywhere else," Shulman said. "It's absurd."
House Speaker Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said that while he would have chosen a different word, the uproar about the use of "Gestapo" was "much ado about nothing."
"Politicians from both sides of the aisle have invoked the word 'Gestapo' in the past to reference heavy-handed government tactics," said Nutting, adding that Democratic protests to the governor's comments were "manufactured outrage" that "indicates to me that their party is desperately seeking a way to become relevant."
Response to the governor's comments has been as divided as the debate about the individual mandate itself. Democrats have blasted LePage, but online commenters and email responses to a Portland Press Herald story have applauded him.
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