Much ado has been made about remarks by Paul LePage last weekend during a railroad fundraiser in which the candidate was joined by reporters, supporters and other 2010 office-seekers. The Waterville Republican was accused of making a jab at Democrat Libby Mitchell’s age, for which he later apologized.
That’s the story that’s been floating around for the past several days. But wrapped up in AgeGate 2010 were some other remarks from LePage that are perhaps more important. Namely, does LePage — nominally the conservative, Christian choice for governor — know what creationism is?
A little background: During MPBN’s Republican Candidate Primary Debate, LePage was asked, “Do you believe in creationism and do you think it should be taught in Maine public schools?” LePage’s answer: “I would say the more education you have, the more knowledge you have, the better person you are. And I believe yes…and yes.”
The listener could be forgiven for not thinking much of the candidate’s answer. The fact that LePage believes in creationism is not too big of a variation from the official Catholic belief, which is sort of hazy anyway . One wouldn’t have been expected to be shocked to know LePage thought creationism should be taught in schools, either.
Here’s where it starts to get hairy.
LePage recently accused Democrats’ 2010 campaign manager Arden Manning of saying the Republican was unfit to govern because he’s a French Canadian Catholic. Manning, for his part, denies this ever happened, but told the Bangor Daily News that he had criticized LePage’s stance on creationism and other issues.
According to the BDN, LePage had a conversation with Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s Susan Sharon that went something like this:
“My opponents are saying that I am not fit to be a governor because I am French Catholic,” LePage said, according to a recording of the interview supplied by the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
Asked to be more specific, LePage said such comments have been made on a number of blogs. He then named Manning specifically.
“The guy, his name is Arden Manning. [He] is the guy that is spilling this garbage,” LePage said.
“He is saying that because of your French Catholicism you are not fit?” pressed MPBN’s Susan Sharon.
“Yeah,” LePage replied. “He calls me a creationist. I tried it, though. I did try. I went to the river and tried to part it and it didn’t move. I tried to walk across my pool and I sunk,” he said with a laugh.
First off, LePage is equating the Democrats’ real concern with his being a creationist, (which I can only assume means “believer of creationism”), with an imagined concern of his being a French Catholic. Simply put, he’s mixing up the terms “creationist” and”French Catholic.”
Moreover, the Hulk-sized pink elephant in the room is that LePage seemed not to know what he was being asked. He told Sharon that he “tried” being a creationist but that it didn’t work. The examples he gives of how he tried consist of detailing his futile attempts to part, then walk on, water. So now the Republican candidate for governor has confused “French Catholic” with “creationist,” and “creationist” with “miracle-worker.”
So did LePage stumble on his words during the debate (“And I believe … yes, and yes.”) because he’s not the worlds greatest public speaker, or because he was trying to remember what creationism is?
Some may say LePage is just feeling the stress of the campaign, but this is not just a question of semantics. Mayor LePage has said on the record that he believes in creationism and thinks it should be taught in schools. Whether Biblical ideas should be taught to children in a public education setting is a contentious issue in this state as well as the whole nation. “Teach kids creationism” isn’t a bandwagon a savvy politician should jump on for no reason or a position one would take on whim.
LePage has said since the beginning of his campaign that he didn’t want to focus on social issues. This gaffe could mean that he’s not prepared to address issues outside the realm of jobs and the economy, the two areas LePage wants to focus on. Teaching creationism in school — like gay marriage, abortion and seperation of church and state — are hot-button issues fueled by people deppy held (or not held) beliefs. Candidates cannot afford to shoot from the hip.
LePage, for his part, seems to feel burned by the press because of all the attention his remarks have received. After apologizing for the age comment about Libby Mitchell, he told WVOM 103.9 FM that he wouldn’t be answering questions from reporters except through written correspondence. He said reporters “won’t report what you say, they just report the spin that they want to put on it.”
In a move to temper the storm, Maine’s Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster told WMTW that the candiate would talk again, he just “won’t spend a lot of time talking about issues that are not important to Maine people.”
(Editors note: Before publishing this piece, Maine Observer tried to contact the LePage’s campaign by e-mail and telephone. Neither Mayor LePage nor any representative have responded. When they do, we’ll post an update to this story). Thanks to Tony Reaves for some clarification on the official Catholic position on creationism.