Homeless as boy, Maine gov targets domestic abuse

July 9, 2011 - 2:14 PM

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Abused by his father as a boy to the point that he ran away from home, Maine Gov. Paul LePage knows about domestic abuse. On Saturday, he expressed "zero tolerance" for it and encouraged Mainers not to remain silent about abusive relationships.

Speaking after a pair of highly publicized killings, LePage said Saturday that his own background as a victim of an abusive alcoholic father makes him sensitive to a continuing problem that plagues the state.

"Domestic violence is a problem in our state and it's this type of abuse that is ripping apart families, friends and entire communities. We can no longer stay silent. We must speak out and as governor I pledge to do just that," LePage said in his weekly radio address.

Last month, a man gunned down his wife as she ran to a neighbor's house for help in Winslow before leading state police on a chase and killing himself; a week later, a man killed his estranged wife and their two children with shotgun blasts before taking his life in Dexter.

So far this year, seven out of 13 homicide victims in Maine were killed by a spouse or loved one. That's in keeping with statistics from recent years in Maine.

While well-acquainted with domestic violence, LePage doesn't talk about it often.

As a boy, living in Lewiston, his father was a violent drunk who abused his family from the moment he cashed his paycheck each Friday and started drinking until returning to his job in a mill each Monday morning, LePage has said. LePage fled after his father broke his nose and offered him a 50-cent piece to keep it quiet, he said.

"As many of you know, I left home at the age of 11 with nowhere to go. But being homeless was the better alternative of being abused. I understand how domestic abuse can tear a family apart and I am aware of the sensitivity of the issue. I have zero tolerance for domestic abuse," he said.

LePage said it's important for those who're being abused to seek help. And he said it's up to people to speak up to make sure abusers know their actions won't be tolerated. He also pointed to a program rolling out this fall to address best practices for businesses in identifying and handling domestic abuse.

As for LePage, he said he's working with Public Safety Commissioner John Morris to address domestic abuse.

The administration plans to seek to strengthen laws and penalties, and it's also looking at bail conditions for domestic violence, said LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett.

Julia Colpitts, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said the governor is sincerely concerned about domestic violence.

While some critics have accused the Republican governor of being heartless, LePage's commitment to tackling domestic violence shows he's caring and compassionate, she said.

"He's not a fake," said Colpitts, who had lunch recently with the governor to discuss the topic. "He really believes this. He means it to the core."