AUGUSTA — In a rambling 40-minute speech that was part sermon and part soliloquy, a Christian pastor from New Jersey told Mainers they need to forgive Republican Gov. Paul LePage for comments he made in August about race and drug trafficking.

The Rev. Steve Craft also had some advice for LePage: “From now on, button your lip,” said Craft, who holds a master of divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School and describes himself as a “black American.” About 20 people attended his speech Wednesday at the State House Visitor Center.

Craft said he had written to LePage to offer his support and advice after the media storm in August that started at the governor’s town hall forum in North Berwick, where LePage said he had been keeping track of Maine drug arrests since January in a three-ring binder, and that over 90 percent of the suspects in booking mug shots from those arrests were black or Hispanic. LePage’s comment drew criticism from state lawmakers and the ACLU of Maine, which subsequently prompted LePage to leave an obscenity-ladened voice mail on a state lawmaker’s cellphone and tell a pair of reporters he wished he could have a pistol duel with the lawmaker, who he mistakenly thought had called him a racist.

A news release announcing his visit to Maine stated that Craft was coming to “defend” LePage, but Craft said that wasn’t necessarily the case. He said he decided to visit after LePage failed to write back to thank Craft for his support, although a LePage staff member wrote a message to thank him for his “kind words.”

Since the governor himself did not write, Craft, 72, said he decided to visit Maine and let people here know what he was thinking and why he believes LePage wasn’t necessarily wrong about connecting drug trafficking and race.

A message to the governor’s office seeking comment went unanswered Wednesday. LePage and his staff have refused to answer repeated questions about why race matters in the effort to combat drug addiction.

Craft said he saw the story about LePage on the national news in August, while he was at his home in Monroe Township, N.J.

“And he said some terrible things about blacks and Hispanics coming up from Connecticut and coming up from New York and bringing heroin to our lily white state of Maine,” Craft said. “As a minister of the gospel, God tells us to be ministers of reconciliation. This race card nonsense has got to stop.”

Using a story from the Bible’s Book of John, Craft said those accusing LePage of being a racist needed to look inside their own hearts first because they were likely hypocrites. Craft said that since LePage had apologized and asked for forgiveness, he should receive it.

“The man was wrong, he asked for forgiveness, he apologized, let the thing go,” Craft said. “But at the same time, I also said, ‘Man, stop having diarrhea of the mouth. Think before you shoot off at your mouth and you won’t have these controversies. Words have power, and how many of us know once we open our mouths and say something we can’t take it back?”

He said he had no animosity toward LePage, and urged people to understand that as governor he is “under all kinds of pressure.” “I would be under pressure as an individual minister if I had to deal with that kind of nonsense,” he said.

Craft said he was a heroin addict for 10 years but has been drug-free for 40 years. He said Maine wouldn’t solve its drug addiction crisis by focusing on the race of those selling or doing drugs.

“Certain things are spiritual, and the only way you are going to totally abolish them is with a change of heart, a transformation in the heart and a transformation in the mind,” Craft said. “Drug addiction at its root is a moral problem, drug addiction at its root is a spiritual problem. I don’t care if whites brought the dope in here, if blacks brought it in, if Hispanics brought it in. Heroin in and of itself would sit right on there until hell freezes over until somebody picked it up, cooked it up and shot it.”

Craft said that with no demand for heroin in Maine, there would be no concern about traffickers and dealers. “Get rid of the demand and the supply will dry up,” he said.

He also mentioned LePage’s binder of arrest reports and said it obviously didn’t show what the governor said it would.

“What does race have to do with drugs?” Craft asked. “And the answer is simply this: It has nothing to do with it.”

Craft said it was whites who were largely using heroin in Maine, but ultimately race doesn’t matter when it comes to drug crimes and drug trafficking.

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