Union sounds off over governor’s Gestapo comment

Maine Gov. Paul LePage Maine Gov. Paul LePage Pat Wellenbach/AP

The leader of a large federal union on Tuesday demanded a full apology from the governor of Maine who compared the Internal Revenue Service to Nazi Germany’s murderous secret police.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage referred to the IRS as the “new Gestapo” during a July 7 radio address in which he denounced the Affordable Care Act, in particular the part of the law known as the individual mandate which requires those without health insurance to purchase it or pay a penalty at tax time. The IRS is responsible for enforcing that mandate and collecting taxes. The Supreme Court upheld most of the law, including the individual mandate, in late June.

“This decision has made America less free,” LePage said in the radio address. “We the people have been told there is no choice. You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo -- the IRS.”

The remark drew criticism from Jewish groups and Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, the organization that represents IRS workers. In a July 10 letter to LePage, Kelley said she was “greatly offended” by his “scurrilous and absurd comparison” of federal employees to the Nazi’s secret police, who were responsible for the imprisonment and deaths of millions of people during World War II.

“This is exactly the type of over-the-top political rhetoric that is not only a disservice to our national discourse, but to the long history of noble public service,” Kelley wrote. “I hear from federal employees each and every day, from Maine and from every state of our union, and they are tired of being belittled and demonized in the name of political gamesmanship. Irresponsible rhetoric and mischaracterizations of federal employees can also lead to violent attacks on these workers.”

LePage issued a statement on Monday backing off his comments. “It was not my intent to insult anyone, especially the Jewish community, or minimize the fact that millions of people were murdered,” he said. “Clearly, what has happened is that the use of the word Gestapo has clouded my message. Obamacare is forcing the American people to buy health insurance or else pay a tax. Our health care system is moving toward one that rations care and negatively impacts millions of Americans. We no longer are a free people. With every step that Obamacare moves forward, our individual freedoms are being stripped away by the federal government. This should anger all Americans.”

According to a report in Maine’s Morning Sentinel, LePage inserted the Gestapo comment into his address after his staff had edited his remarks. It remained in the final prepared remarks and was not an off-the-cuff comment.

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