WATERVILLE — Gov. Paul LePage again hammered away at Maine’s heroin crisis in a speech Thursday morning to business leaders, saying penalties for traffickers were too light and he believed in capital punishment for dealers guilty of peddling illegal drugs in the state.

“If it was me, and I had the right to do whatever, I would inject the traffickers with their own medicine, because they are killing our people,” LePage said, in remarks to a breakfast meeting of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce held at Thomas College in Waterville.

LePage said 400 people had died from drug overdoses since March 2014 and more had been murdered in drug deals gone bad. Twenty babies are born every week addicted to drugs, LePage said, and the state needs to fund more drug enforcement agents to deal with the problem.

LePage’s speech followed a political firestorm last week when he told attendees at a town hall meeting in Bridgton that drug dealers coming to Maine were impregnating young white girls, a remark that critics called racist. LePage held a rare news conference Friday to say the remark was “one slip” and that his statement wasn’t intended to single out race or a particular group of women.

At Thursday’s business breakfast, LePage made a reference to the criticism of the racially charged controversy, saying of drug dealers: “It doesn’t matter, the color of your skin. If you are a drug trafficker in this state and you are killing our babies, our people, you need to go away.”

LePage was responding to a question from Russ Vesecky, of Waterville, who asked the governor why he backed down and apologized for his statement in Bridgton.

“I apologized to the white women of America and I don’t apologize for drug dealers,” LePage said.

His address on the state’s heroin “pandemic” was part of an wide-ranging hourlong talk on “moving Maine from poverty to prosperity.” LePage touched on familiar themes such as energy costs, the income tax, welfare reform, student loan relief, his dissatisfaction with the Legislature and his dislike of the state’s news media.

LePage’s made his remarks before the House of Representatives decided against pursuing impeachment proceedings against the governor and instead voted 96-52 to support an order that implicitly chastises the Republican governor but doesn’t mention his name. LePage criticized the impeachments effort during his business breakfast talk, saying: “It’s very simple. If you speak the truth, you will be condemned.”

Speaking to the mostly friendly group, LePage said the Maine Constitution allows impeachment only for high crimes and misdemeanors.

” I have done neither,” LePage said. “Whether you like me or don’t like me is the issue today,” he said, adding he would continue to push his agenda forward.

“I am not politically correct, and if I was, you would not listen to me. It’s that simple,” LePage said.

The governor has sparred frequently with lawmakers from both parties and has said he thinks that the Legislature is corrupt and is standing in the way of progress.

He repeated some of those comments Thursday, saying that each of the legislators he had put pictures of on a Christmas tree placed outside his State House office last summer had done “back-door deals” with supporters. Hundreds of organizations in the state have received state funding and did nothing all year, but they “scurried” around during election season, he said.

LePage also said voters were to blame for legislators who would not work with his administration.

“While the Legislature should be knee-high working with us, they have not been part of the process. And that, I say, is your fault, not my fault,” LePage said.

“My job as governor is to bring vision. The job of the Legislature is to put the laws and regulations in place and you folks, the electorate, is responsible for having oversight over the Legislature and making sure that they are do what they are supposed to. I am not sure that is what’s happening, at least to the extent that it should,” he said.

LePage highlighted his push to eliminate the state’s income tax and replace it with a 1 percent increase in the state sales tax, with protections for the poor and elderly. “Lowering the income tax gives everyone an increase,” LePage said.

The Legislature last year rejected the governor’s attempts to eliminate the income tax. Afterward, LePage said he would take the proposal to voters in a statewide referendum.

On Thursday, LePage said referendums to eliminate the income tax were moving forward, but the efforts might not make the 2016 ballot. It might be strategic to wait until 2017, because it would be an off-year election and only people who are really interested would vote and the measure would a better chance of success, LePage said.

In order to attract and keep young people in Maine, the state should have ways for people to write off student loan payments on their personal taxes, and it should offer incentives for every employer who hires someone with student loans and pays off the loans to be repaid dollar for dollar in tax deductions.

“I’m trying to keep these people here. There’s a selfish reason for that. I want my son and daughter to remain in Maine so I don’t have to fly to see my grandchildren some day,” LePage said.

A proposal to increase the minimum wage to $12 would prevent companies from coming to the state, LePage added.

“Raising the minimum wage the way they are planning to do it would put us back 25 years. It’s devastating,” he said.

Even though Maine has the lowest electricity costs in New England, they are still too high for companies that want to move to the state, LePage said. French aircraft company Airbus considered moving a facility to Maine but went to Alabama instead because the electricity costs were significantly lower, he said. Maine is stymied from getting cheaper hydroelectric power from Quebec because it has a cap on types of electrical production that he wants lifted, LePage said, repeating a demand he has made for years.

Speaking to another of his perennial concerns — welfare reform — LePage said that his administration had reduced welfare spending from $10,000 annually per person on welfare, the highest in the country, to $6,700. In order to be dead center on welfare spending, he would have to get it down to $2,500 a year, LePage said.

He also proposed a five-year limitation on public assistance for able-bodied people ages 19-50, saying that everyone should be able to find a job within five years.

“After that, I’ll buy them a lobster roll and a bus ticket and they can try in another state,” LePage said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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