AUGUSTA — Maine’s departing Republican governor is doubling down on his discredited claim that out-of-state black and Hispanic drug dealers are responsible for an overwhelming percentage of drug trafficking in the state.

Gov. Paul LePage repeated his claim Thursday afternoon on Maine Public. A caller to the show criticized the governor for blaming out-of-state minorities for fueling the state’s drug crisis, and LePage responded that “it’s true.”

LePage proceeded to say “97 percent” of drug dealers in the state were minorities. He first made a similar claim in the summer of 2016 during a town hall event in North Berwick, saying “90 plus percent” of the booking photos in a binder of drug crime information he was collecting were of black or Hispanic suspects.

After the Portland Press Herald requested a copy of the binder under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, an inspection revealed that of the 93 people pictured, 37 appeared to be either black or Hispanic, or about 40 percent of all the photos, and 56 of the suspects, or about 60 percent, appeared to be white.

LePage’s office repeatedly sought to explain that he was specifically referring to out-of-state heroin dealers when he described the race of those arrested, not to dealers in other drugs like methamphetamine, whose photos also are in the binder.

But the photos of the 51 people facing heroin or other opioid drug charges showed that only 47 percent, or 24 individuals, appeared to be black or Hispanic. The remaining 53 percent, or 27 people, were white. Other press releases in the binder reported the names of people charged with heroin trafficking but did not include booking mug shots.

The binder also included a number of items with little or no drug dealing involved, such as a domestic violence case, a shooting in which the victim had heroin in his body, and a home invasion where the list of items stolen included medical marijuana. LePage has never offered an explanation of why he was keeping the scrapbook of press releases.

Earlier in 2016, LePage drew criticism for comments he made during another town hall event, in Bridgton, when he was talking about how heroin was being brought into Maine by dealers from out of state.

“These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty – these types of guys – they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home,” LePage said. “Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road.”

LePage never addressed why race mattered when it came to responding to Maine’s opioid crisis, and he faced accusations of racism as a result of his statements. He left an obscenity-filled voice message for Rep. Drew Gattine after the Westbrook Democrat said the governor’s comments were “racially charged and not helpful” in solving the drug crisis.

LePage later said he thought Gattine had called him a racist, and he eventually apologized to the state and to Gattine and his family. However, LePage has repeatedly insisted he was only stating the truth about the race of drug traffickers in Maine.

The governor has said he will become a Florida resident after he leaves office, but maintain a house in Maine.

His replacement, Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills, will be sworn in next month.

The Associated Press

contributed to this report.

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