By DAVID SHARP, Associated Press
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Seeking to douse a fire he started by comparing the IRS to the Gestapo, Maine Gov. Paul LePage issued a formal apology on Friday for his "insensitivity to the word" after a face-to-face meeting with representatives of several Jewish groups that had complained.
LePage hoped his apology in his weekly radio address would bring an end to the weeklong furor that started when he described the Internal Revenue Service as the "new Gestapo" while criticizing President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
LePage said it was "never my intent to insult or to be hurtful to anyone, but rather express what can happen by overreaching government."
"The acts of the Holocaust were nothing short of horrific. Millions of innocent people were murdered, and I apologize for my insensitivity to the word and the offense some took to my comparison of the IRS and the Gestapo," the governor said.
Known for blunt rhetoric, LePage previously told the Portland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to "kiss my butt," called protesters "idiots," referred to state government middle managers as "corrupt" and even said he would tell Obama to "go to hell."
His formal apology for the Gestapo remarks represents the first time he has done so.
"People took offense to it, and he is recognizing that. He's owning up to it and he's saying 'I'm sorry,'" said his spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett.
The Gestapo was Adolf Hitler's secret police in Nazi Germany, and was ruthless in its pursuits, which included assisting the Nazi SS in rounding up Jews.
The governor's original radio address last weekend in which he attacked the Supreme Court's ruling on "Obamacare" didn't include the reference to the Gestapo, but the governor added in the final version.
The Republican governor said the Supreme Court's decision "made America less free" and gave Americans no choice but to buy health insurance or "pay the new Gestapo — the IRS."
On Friday, Democratic Rep. Emily Cain of Orono said the governor's remarks "once again" served to draw unwanted national attention to the state.
"It is simply not OK to trivialize the experience of victims in Nazi Germany for political shock. Ever," she said in the Democratic radio address.
Earlier in the week, the governor backed away from his use of the word but critics continued to express outrage and anger.
The governor didn't help his case Thursday in Vermont when he told a reporter that the IRS isn't the Gestapo — "yet." LePage's spokeswoman said reporters failed to report his full comments but, instead, the news reports fanned the flames.
The governor met Friday with representatives from the Anti-Defamation League of New England and the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine to clear the air.
Emily Chaleff, executive director of the community alliance, said she appreciated the governor's apology both in the closed-door meeting and in his public comments.
"He clearly understands that the wounds of the Holocaust have a unique and terrible place in world history," she said. "We look forward to a more positive discourse."
Associated Press reporter Glenn Adams in Augusta, Maine, contributed to this report.
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