AUGUSTA – Rep. Robert Nutting, the Republican nominee for speaker of the House, is solid, steady, thoughtful and “pathologically neat,” his colleagues say.
When the new Legislature is sworn in Wednesday and the full House chooses its speaker, Nutting is likely to become the 100th leader of the Maine House of Representatives.
“He has a quiet, almost low-key demeanor but, I think along with that, a very quick mind and a very dry sense of humor,” said Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, who served with Nutting on the Appropriations Committee.
He can also be prickly but will listen to opposing views, said Rep. Lisa Miller, D-Somerville, who sat next to Nutting on the budget writing committee.
“He is very conservative,” Miller said. “I think he helped hold up that banner in the Appropriations Committee, but he was not overbearing by any means.”
Miller said she traces his neatness — she’s described him as “pathologically neat” — to his training as a pharmacist. She said he didn’t ask questions often while on the committee, but when he did, they were thoughtful.
“I can see him being fair and reaching across the aisle,” she said. “I think he’ll be a very good speaker.”
The son of a plumber and a homemaker, Nutting, 63, grew up in Skowhegan. He played football and tennis and said he enjoyed growing up in central Maine.
He originally thought he wanted to be a dentist, until his sister-in-law talked him out of it. “She suggested looking into mouths all day probably wasn’t all that much fun,” he said.
A good student of science, Nutting wanted to do something in the health care field. He spent five years at the Massachusetts School of Pharmacy in Boston, and returned to Maine to a job at Seton Hospital in Waterville.
He got a job at True’s Pharmacy in Oakland in the early 1970s, eventually taking over the business. It went bankrupt in 2003 after an investigation by state officials into the pharmacy’s Medicaid billing practices.
Nutting was found to have been overpaid by $1.6 million, of which only $433,000 was repaid.
He has called this error an honest mistake made by many other pharmacists; Nutting has since moved to other pharmacy jobs, including spending the last four years at the Walmart in Waterville.
In politics, Nutting served on Oakland Town Council from 1977 to 1988, during which time he got to know former Rep. Joe Bruno, also a pharmacist, who encouraged him to run for the Legislature in 1998.
Nutting served eight consecutive years in the House, on the Banking and Insurance, Health and Human Services, Labor and Appropriations committees, before he was termed out. He then challenged Sen. Libby Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, in a Senate race, but lost by a wide margin.
After sitting out two years, he won back his House seat — and a position on the Appropriations Committee. If Nutting continues to get re-elected, and Republicans keep control of the House, he could serve as speaker for six years straight, which hasn’t happened in the era of term limits.
Nutting outlined three principles that Republicans will use while governing over the next two years.
“We as a party believe the best government is a small and efficient government,” he said.
Secondly, they believe people should “get to keep more of their hard earned money.”
Third, they want businesses to succeed so they can afford to pay the taxes necessary to support government.
Even Republicans doubted their chances of taking control of the House from Democrats, who held 95 seats going into the election. But when the votes were counted, Republicans had taken control 78-72-1, and found themselves needing a speaker.
“Prior to the election, we had no idea we would take the majority in the House,” he said. “I was a candidate for assistant minority leader. Then the world turned upside down on Nov. 2, and at that point, everyone was rethinking their position.”
A five-way race led into four rounds of voting, after which Nutting was finally declared the winner.
“I think I have the temperament to be a good speaker,” he said. “I thought the last speaker, Hannah (Pingree), was an outstanding speaker. She conducted the House with respect to our time … and going out of her way not to embarrass people.”
While presiding over the House, speakers can make members who don’t understand parliamentary procedure look silly. Nutting has seen it, and says he’s won’t try to embarrass people just because he’s presiding over the House.
Nutting does advise new members that being a legislator requires patience.
He compares it to hunting, something he enjoyed over the years with friends.
“You need to go sit on a stump out in the woods, just sitting there listening and thinking for hours,” he said. “Hunting is great training for the Legislature.”
MaineToday State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: