Monday, May 29th, 2017

LePage’s town hall meeting disrupted by protesters

Bradford Spurr

Posted on April 22, 2017 in News
By USM Free Press

By: Julie Pike, Staff Writer

In Hannaford Hall on Tuesday, April 18, Gov. Paul LePage addressed an audience of USM students, faculty and staff and community members. LePage focused on three main topics: tax policy, budget, energy policy and welfare reform.

He was invited by the USM chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). Ben Bussiere, the chairman for YAF, introduced the governor before his talk. This event took a similar turn to a recent event hosted by YAF, when Rep. Larry Lockman spoke at USM.

Ten minutes into the event, an audience member stood up in the crowd, yelling profanities at LePage. This man was asked to leave by USM faculty and campus police who were in attendance, including Dean of Students David McKenzie. The Portland Police Department were also present at the event. Audience members were asked to leave if they were considered to be disruptive and were not allowed back in.

President Glenn Cummings issued a statement over email to the entire student body, urging LePage’s critics to practice “peaceful protests” and to challenge his positions during the Q&A portion of the event.

“Denying the Governor his right to speak, or denying others their right to hear what he has to say, is not free speech, runs counter to our student code of conduct and flies in the face of a core USM principle that hearing differing points of view sharpens our own critical thinking,” Cummings wrote.

Cummings wishes, however, did not come true. LePage was interrupted during his talk over a dozen times by people sitting in the audience, including USM students and community members. While some shouted profanities and spoke negatively about LePage, others brought up questions about policy choices and budgets.

People in the audience also stood up in unison chanting “Black Lives Matter.” The woman who began the first chant also said that she and her fellow protestors are committed to ending white supremacy.  

While LePage stayed mostly reserved while protestors spoke, he sometimes gave quick responses to their statements.

“All lives matter,” said LePage in response to their chants.

“All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter in this country,” said another woman who stood up in the crowd.

Many of the protesters focused on accusations of LePage being racist. Some referred to a well known quote that LePage said at a town hall meeting in January 2016:

“There are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty…they come from Connecticut and New York…they sell their heroin, they go back home… half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave…”

One of the protestors of LePage’s event, Brian Ferguson, a USM alumni, felt that LePage’s words and policies prove that he is a racist and white supremacist.

“His own words speak for [themselves], but his policy positions really send the message,” Ferguson said.

There are some students who disagree. This  includes Bussiere, who was involved in getting LePage to come speak at USM.

“My question for them is, where is their evidence that he’s a white supremacist?” Bussiere asked. “This is a narrative that is pushed by the far left, to paint whites and white conservatives as the enemy. They want to shame people for their love for their country or for being white.”

Alex Shaffer, a student from the USM chapter of the College Republicans said that LePage has not shown evidence of being racist.

“I have not seen him demonstrate any signs of white supremacy,” Shaffer said. “I’ve seen him treat everybody equally.”

LePage’s event only lasted around an hour. As it came to an end, LePage thanked the crowd and ended by saying that despite all of the commotion, he had survived.

As people left the auditorium, approximately 25 students stood outside on the sidewalk in peaceful protest, holding signs and continuing to chant “Black Lives Matter.” They also chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Paul LePage has got to go,” and “You’re a racist, Paul LePage, get your ass off the stage.”

Some of the protesters included members of the student group Students for USM’s Future, who were against LePage speaking at USM.

“The university would rather threaten removal by police to anyone who disrupts than acknowledge the violence in allowing LePage to speak in the first place,” USM’s Future wrote on their Facebook page.

Overall, Bussiere stated that he felt the event went better than the Lockman event.