AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage said Friday that he’s sorry if anyone was offended by his crude sexual remark a day earlier about a Democratic leader in the state Senate.
The Republican governor, in impromptu comments to reporters outside his office, also said he is considering abandoning his re-election bid in 2014 and running instead for Congress.
In his statement to reporters, LePage apologized in particular to Maine loggers, some of whom were outraged by statements he made Thursday about Sen. Troy Jackson, a logger from Allagash who is the Senate’s assistant majority leader.
“It was never my intent to ever, ever suggest that the loggers of the state of Maine are in the same league as Troy Jackson,” LePage said. “I owe that apology.”
Jackson came under fire from LePage on Thursday after he said that Democrats would not accept the governor’s latest state budget proposal, and that they probably had enough votes to override his threatened veto of the $6.3 billion, two-year budget that lawmakers passed last week.
When a reporter from WMTW-TV asked LePage about Jackson’s statement, the governor said Jackson “has no brains” and “he has a black heart.”
He also said, “Sen. Jackson claims to be for the people, but he’s the first one to give it to the people of Maine without providing Vaseline.”
Later in the interview, LePage said, “People like Troy Jackson, they ought to go back in the woods and cut trees and let somebody with a brain come down here and do some work.”
The governor’s comments made news around the nation, on television, in newspapers and on social media, prompting defenders to describe him as a plainspoken man who “tells it like it is” while critics blasted him for crossing the lines of decency and civility.
When a reporter asked him Friday about a general apology to Maine people for what many considered a vulgar comment, LePage paused and said: “You know what’s vulgar? A senator saying we don’t care what the governor does. We have the votes to override him. I find that enormously vulgar. I find that despicable.”
LePage then said he apologizes if anyone was offended by his statement.
“It was not meant to offend anybody,” he said. “But I will say this. It was intended to wake the people of Maine up.”
He then referred to the state’s tax burden and how it would be affected by the budget.
The governor’s remark about a congressional run echoes a rumor that circulated at the State House this week. His interest has been sparked by last week’s announcement by Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud that he’s considering running for governor in 2014.
LePage said he may run for Michaud’s seat in the 2nd Congressional District.
Michaud launched an exploratory committee last week for a gubernatorial run. He has been soliciting donations ever since.
“I’m considering running for Mike Michaud’s seat, if you want to know the truth, because it can’t be any worse in Washington than it is here,” LePage said Friday. “Everything’s on the table. Retirement, Social Security, running for Congress, maybe going back to Marden’s to stock shelves. Who knows? I don’t take myself as seriously as all you do.”
Brent Littlefield, LePage’s political adviser, said Wednesday that he was “1,000 percent unaware” of the governor’s interest in the 2nd Congressional District seat.
Littlefield has been working on LePage’s re-election bid. He has been LePage’s adviser since his 2010 gubernatorial campaign and remains involved in Maine People Before Politics, a political group that backs the governor. He has also run congressional campaigns in other states.
LePage’s re-election committee has been active recently. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for LePage on July 2.
Bush, the son and brother of former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, respectively, will headline the event at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, where the Bush family has long had a summer home.
A number of Republicans are listed as hosts of the fundraiser, including former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and Linda Bean, a Maine businesswoman who has supported libertarian candidates and causes.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and businessman Les Otten are also listed as hosts.
In a prepared statement Friday, Snowe called LePage’s remarks about Jackson “regrettable and inappropriate.” She said the governor’s apology “was in everyone’s best interests” so the Legislature can continue its work.
Lucas Caron, a spokesman for Snowe, said he didn’t know whether Snowe and her husband, former Maine Gov. John McKernan, would attend and co-host the fundraiser.
Collins “thinks it’s appropriate that the governor has apologized,” said her spokesman, Kevin Kelley, in an email Friday. He said Collins will co-host the fundraiser.
Poliquin did not return a message left on his cellphone Friday.
Maine ethics commission records show that LePage’s campaign had raised more than $219,000 before the end of 2012. McKernan has given the campaign $3,000, while Otten and Poliquin have given $1,500 each.
Republican sources confirmed earlier this week that they had heard LePage was considering a congressional run, but questioned how serious he was.
In March, LePage jokingly mentioned to reporters that he may run for Congress, and that going to Washington would “be the death of me.”
LePage sold his home in Waterville in 2011 after he became governor. His official residence is the Blaine House in Augusta. The governor’s mansion isn’t in the 2nd Congressional District, but federal law doesn’t require residency in a district.
Jackson is also considering running for the 2nd District seat. He reaffirmed that interest in a news release Friday.
“Although I won’t make a final decision until the Legislature’s work in Augusta wraps up in the coming week, I am giving serious thought to a campaign for Congress from the Second District,” Jackson said. “I would welcome Governor LePage’s candidacy, and I look forward to the opportunity to put our competing visions for the people of Maine before the voters.”
He said, “A matchup between the governor and myself would give voters a stark choice — between someone who puts corporate special interests first and a lifelong champion for Maine’s workers and families.”
Michaud’s interest in running for governor has cleared the way for 2nd District hopefuls. Potential Democratic candidates include:
• Emily Cain of Orono, a former state House minority leader and current state senator.
• Joe Baldacci, a Bangor city councilor who is the younger brother of former U.S. House member and Gov. John Baldacci.
• Attorney General Janet Mills.
• Secretary of State and former U.S. Senate candidate Matt Dunlap.
Potential Republican candidates include:
• Former state Sen. Richard Rosen of Bucksport.
• Former House Minority Leader Josh Tardy.
• State Sen. Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls.
• Former Senate President Kevin Raye, who twice ran unsuccessfully against Michaud.
• Rep. Alex Willette of Mapleton, the current assistant House minority leader.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: