STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Long before Donald Trump ran for president, the state of Maine elected Paul LePage. The governor is known for his blunt statements. It's part of his image. But some of his latest words have left Maine lawmakers urging him to quit or else seek mental health treatment. A trigger was a threatening obscenity-laced voicemail to a lawmaker. On that voicemail, LePage urged the lawmaker to make the recording public, which he did. Steve Mistler of Maine Public Radio reports.
STEVE MISTLER, BYLINE: It took an angry voice message punctuated with two gay slurs to awaken Maine politics from its traditional pre-Labor Day slumber.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PAUL LEPAGE: You little son of a [expletive], socialist [expletive]. You - I need to just freaking - I want you to record this and make it public because I am after you.
MISTLER: Governor LePage followed his message to a Democratic lawmaker by telling two reporters that he fantasized about a duel and pointing his weapon right between the legislator's eyes. And boom, the governor rocked Maine's political landscape, generating headlines across the country.
SARA GIDEON: This kind of behavior is not normal behavior. It is not just not what we expect of our governor; it's also not what we expect of any human being who is functioning normally in society.
MISTLER: Assistant House Leader Sara Gideon says a political intervention is needed. She says the governor is unfit for office and should resign. Some Republican lawmakers who have shown deference to the governor are increasingly uneasy. State Senator Amy Volk wondered whether the governor suffers from, quote, "substance abuse, mental illness or just ignorance."
Those statements marked the first time elected officials gave voice to the whispers sometimes used to explain LePage's conduct. On Tuesday, a crowd of about 500 people heard speakers question the governor's mental well-being during a rally urging him to step down. During the rally, Pastor William Barter spoke as if the state of Maine was in an abusive relationship.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
WILLIAM BARTER: There are many sensible people in Maine of all parties now asking the question, should we break up with our abuser?
MISTLER: It was an ironic metaphor since LePage himself has said he was abused as a child. LePage's tenure as governor has been a six-year odyssey of the impolitic, from crude sexual references about a Democratic senator to his granting an audience to anti-government extremists who suggested the public execution of two Democratic legislative leaders. But LePage weathered those controversies, winning re-election just two years ago. And he quashed an impeachment effort earlier this year. He cleared a key hurdle yesterday, when House Republicans announced the controversy wasn't enough to censure him.
LePage has offered mixed messages about his plans. Yesterday, he signaled he was contemplating resigning. But later in the day, he paraphrased Mark Twain, tweeting that, quote, "reports of his political demise are greatly exaggerated." Democrats here are sticking to their call for resignation. They cited LePage's repeated and false assertion that black and Hispanic drug dealers are the enemy and primarily responsible for the opioid epidemic. But Democrats here have limited control over LePage's fate. While some new Republicans have emerged to express their dismay, it's unclear if they have the collective desire to get rid of him. For NPR News, I'm Steve Mistler in Augusta, Maine.
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