Politics

November 24, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Maine governor’s welfare-cutters are experts at helping conservatives

The Alexander Group will get almost $1 million from taxpayers to make LePage look tough on aid programs.

Don’t look now, fellow Maine taxpayers, but we just bought Gov. Paul LePage one whopper of a campaign weapon.

Gary D. Alexander, the former secretary of public welfare for Pennsylvania, has has been hired by Maine to conduct a $925,000 review of Maine’s Medicaid program and the potential effects of expanding it through the federal health care law.

Photo courtesy PhillyLive.com

On paper, it’s a $925,000 contract with The Alexander Group of Rhode Island to spend until May examining Maine’s welfare system with an eye toward making it, shall we say, leaner and meaner.

But in reality, it’s a just-in-time, custom-made “expert study” designed to “prove” throughout LePage’s upcoming re-election campaign that Maine’s downtrodden, after three years in The Big Guy’s vise grip, need to be squeezed just a little bit harder.

“We are excited about the opportunity to work with such a knowledgeable group of experts,” gushed Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew in a press release last week announcing the deal (which, for the record, was actually sealed back in late September).

Now, when I hear “knowledgeable group of experts,” I see people who at the very least work in an office. Maybe even their own office building if they’re well versed in, as Mayhew put it, “the constantly shifting landscape of the Affordable Care Act and ever-changing rules from Washington.”

So imagine my surprise last week when I took a few minutes to track down The Alexander Group and its founder, Gary D. Alexander. I started with the address atop The Alexander Group’s contract with the state of Maine: 22 Whispering Pine Terrace, Greenville, RI 02828.

That would be Gary Alexander’s house – a four-bedroom, 2,987-square-foot abode, complete with a baseball pitching target in the front yard, valued by the local assessor at a relatively modest $309,000. Hard as I studied the photo on the town’s property look-up website, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where the group works.

Next I called the phone number for The Alexander Group, which I found on the cover of a $220,000 report the firm delivered last July to the state of Arkansas on its welfare system. Recognizing the Rhode Island area code, I figured I’d get a receptionist or maybe a voice message identifying the company.

Nope. Just a man’s voice saying leave a message. Which, not surprisingly, wasn’t returned.

Now to be fair, we already know a bit about Gary Alexander.

He once headed Rhode Island’s Department of Health and Human Services, where in 2009 he managed to extract a “global Medicaid waiver” from the outgoing Bush administration.

That deal essentially converted Rhode Island’s federal Medicaid funding into a state-administered block grant that, according to Alexander’s bio, “improved care quality, outcomes and access, lowered public costs (and) created more choices for recipients.”

Sounds pretty good. If only the Washington D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in a 2011 analysis of the Rhode Island transformation, hadn’t found that such claims “do not withstand scrutiny.”

Next came Alexander’s stint as secretary of public welfare for Republican Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett from 2011 until Alexander’s resignation last March. There, among other things, Alexander orchestrated the cutting of 130,000 people, including 89,000 children, from Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program.

Lest we think he’s a total cheapskate, however, Alexander also authorized spending $20,000 in scarce taxpayer dollars on a snazzy flagpole outside his department’s new headquarters in Harrisburg.

(The hands-down best reaction to the flagpole flap came from Kit Watson, department adjutant for the Pennsylvania American Legion, who told the Harrisburg Patriot News, “I don’t want to bash a government agency, but I know I’d get hung if I bought a $20,000 flagpole.”)

Alexander also got in hot water in the Keystone State for expense-reporting his 350-mile commutes to and from his home in Rhode Island, for telling his female employees they couldn’t wear open-toe shoes but must wear tights or pantyhose, for often spending only four days (or fewer) a week in his office and for starting a real estate business back in Rhode Island even while he presided over what his bio calls “one of the largest health and welfare agencies in the nation.”

But we digress.

Click on The Alexander Group’s website (www.alexandergroupco.com) and you’ll see, scrolling across the screen, the cities “Providence, Rhode Island; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Washington, D.C.” Yet nowhere will you find a physical address, a phone number, not even a post office box to support the hammer-to-the-forehead implication that the firm actually operates out of any of those places.

On we go to the “Our Team” link, which lists Alexander and 13 associates – almost of all of whom have ties to either Rhode Island or Pennsylvania and whose bios appear in a number of cases to fall somewhat short of what Commissioner Mayhew calls “a knowledgeable group of experts.”

There’s Tania A. Alexander, “an occupational therapist and also a certified physical therapy assistant with over 17 years of experience in the therapy field.” She’s now co-director of the Alexander Group’s therapy and special education practice.

There’s Sharon D’Antuono, “a licensed speech language pathologist (who) brings over ten years experience working as a speech pathologist in the public schools and fourteen years of grant writing experience.” She’s co-chair of the Alexander Group’s therapy and special education practice and as lead grant writer.

But my absolute favorite is Robert W. “Bob” Patterson, who doesn’t appear to have an actual title with The Alexander Group but worked as a $104,000-a-year senior adviser to Alexander in Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare.

That is until Patterson resigned in early 2012 amid media reports about the faith-based journal The Family in America, which he wrote and edited on the side. It seems Patterson penned, among other gems, a piece advising women that having sex with a man who uses a condom “robs” the woman of the mood-and-mind-enhancing benefits of direct exposure to semen.

Feeling suddenly squeamish about this bunch getting paid just under a million bucks to “overhaul” Maine’s welfare system?

Relax. As wowed as Commissioner Mayhew may be by this stunning array of expertise (hey, it’s all relative), The Alexander Group is not here to talk Maine’s Democrat-controlled Legislature into enabling the Republican Party’s war on the poor.

Rather, they’re here to lay the groundwork for what in a few short months will be an endless, mind-bending series of LePage re-election TV ads.

They’ll go something like this:

Indignant-sounding female narrator over a montage of Maine EBT cards, ready-to-eat lobsters and displays of Allen’s Coffee Brandy: “According to a team of nationally recognized experts, Maine’s welfare system is bloated, inefficient and vulnerable to widespread cheating and fraud.”

Cue the inflammatory pull-out quotes, each flashing across the screen over the citation “The Alexander Group, May 2014.”

Flash to full-screen shot of The Big Guy: “Paul LePage has fought tirelessly to rein in the out-of-control spending, but he’s not done yet. Put Maine people before politics. Vote to re-elect Gov. Page LePage!”

Fade to the red, white and blue – flying from a $20,000 flagpole.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

Twitter: @billnemitz

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