AUBURN, Maine — Maine Gov. Paul LePage says his grandmother would’ve washed his mouth out with soap over some of the things he’s said but the Republican governor says even “bad words” are protected by the Constitution.
LePage acknowledged Thursday at a breakfast sponsored by the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce that he doesn’t have “the cleanest mouth” and that his “vocabulary needs improvement.”
The blunt-spoken governor’s accomplishments have often been overshadowed by his caustic remarks, like telling the Portland NAACP chapter to “kiss my butt,” vowing he wouldn’t be afraid to tell the president to “go to hell” and saying a senator gives it to people “without providing Vaseline.”
He compounded a recent uproar over his comments about out-of-state black and Hispanic drug dealers by leaving a profane, threatening message on a lawmaker’s voicemail.
“Words are protected by the Constitution and First Amendment. Every word,” the governor said. “I’m not going to say I have got the cleanest mouth. In fact, if my grandmother was here, she’d have a bar of soap and make me chew it, but it’s still protected speech. Speech is protected.”
Indeed, offensive remarks generally are protected by the Constitution, though there are exceptions like defamation and threats, for example, said Dmitry Bam, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Maine Law School in Portland.
The governor’s comments were elicited by a question about medical marijuana, which is legal in Maine, versus a Nov. 8 referendum to legalize marijuana for recreational use, which the governor opposes.
The governor said medical marijuana is nuanced enough to pass constitutional muster, but legalizing marijuana for recreational use would put Maine into conflict with federal law.
He said he can be impeached for not following the law — but not for cross words.
His remarks alluded to a failed impeachment attempt over his threat to withhold funding from a charter school operator that had hired a political opponent, House Speaker Mark Eves. Some lawmakers criticized the governor’s actions that led to the job offer’s withdrawal as blackmail.
The governor contends he did nothing wrong. On Thursday, the governor said unlawful actions — not naughty words — constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
“That’s why I’m still here. The only thing I’ve ever done is bad words. My vocabulary needs improvement,” he quipped.