Speaker has background to clean House

Posted Nov. 22, 2010, at 8:55 p.m.

The case of Maine Speaker-elect Robert Nutting and True’s Pharmacy is an unfortunate example of government overreach, stemming from an adversarial attitude toward business that has stifled Maine’s economy over the last several decades. Contrary to the shockingly pejorative comparison made by the BDN editorial board Friday between the Speaker-elect and “welfare deadbeats,” Nutting’s experience with True’s Pharmacy serves as an invaluable lesson for all legislators as we begin to correct the relationship between Maine’s state government and our business community.

Department of Human Services documentation shows that Nutting’s pharmacy calculated Medicaid reimbursement rates according to an industry-standard formula. In fact, reports from DHS’s investigation show that current editions of pharmacy textbooks corroborated Nutting’s interpretation of the formula, and a survey done by an industry group of Maine pharmacies showed that 70 percent of respondents used the same method. DHS, though, is the governing body, and its interpretation was different. Once this discrepancy was discovered, instead of working with True’s Pharmacy to rectify the problem, a cash-strapped DHS pushed the rational limits of state governance in its short-term pursuit of funds.

Maine Sunday Telegram columnist Bill Nemitz harshly condemned DHS and its ruthless pursuit of Nutting, concluding a 2002 column by saying its actions amounted to a “death sentence” for an honest man who “made a couple of honest mistakes.” DHS refused attempts by True’s Pharmacy to rectify the overbilling by remaining in business and repaying the debt over time. DHS officials urged Nutting to declare bankruptcy, opting for the liquidated value of True’s assets all at once instead of negotiating a payment schedule that would have allowed them to recoup the entirety of the amount owed. This was a conscious decision made by DHS that ensured the loss of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, as well as the loss of 23 jobs and a business that was an integral part of the community.

In addition to a shallow interpretation of the True’s Pharmacy situation, Friday’s editorial suggested that Nutting is unfit to legislate because he experienced confusion over Medicaid reimbursement rates. This position is not only rash and logically challenged; it also disrespects the people of Nutting’s district, who have voted to return him to office three times since True’s Pharmacy went out of business. The general tone of derision in the editorial disrespects the voters of Maine en masse as well, who, contrary to the wishes and suggestions of the BDN editorial board, elected Republicans to control the state government in one of the biggest House cleanings in Maine’s political history.

Friday’s editorial concluded that Rep. Nutting should step aside as Speaker-elect because his presence will impede Republican efforts to pursue our agenda. It is worth remembering that the BDN editorial board has in recent years been a consistent opponent of Republican ideas, such as the repeal of the Democrats’ tax reform package, as well as Republican candidates, including our two most recent nominees for governor. This makes it hard to take seriously their advice on bringing our campaign promises to fruition. What is more likely is that political opponents see an opportunity to weaken the Republican mandate by fomenting fractures within our caucus, a cynical move that will ultimately prove fruitless.

Republicans will soon assume authority over state government with a clear responsibility to get our economy back on track. We are united in our resolve to fulfill the promises of our campaign and are proud that legislative efforts in the House will be led by our new Speaker, Robert Nutting. Nutting’s experience as a small-business owner will help ensure our efforts remain focused on the needs of Maine’s business community, and his proven leadership will ensure that short-sightedness and partisan ill will like that exhibited in Friday’s editorial will not distract us from our responsibilities to the people of Maine.

Josh Tardy, R-Newport, is the current GOP House leader. Phil Curtis, R-Madison, is the incoming GOP House majority leader. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, is the incoming GOP assistant House majority leader.

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