AUGUSTA – Maine House Republicans, who will be in the majority for the first time in three decades for the upcoming legislative session, nominated veteran Rep. Robert Nutting on Friday to be the chamber’s presiding officer.

The day started with a five-way race for speaker. After a series of votes, including one in which Nutting tied with Rep. Paul Davis of Sangerville, Nutting emerged as the choice of the GOP caucus.

“I am humbled beyond words,” Nutting told the caucus moments after his nomination was announced. “This is an awesome thing, and I can’t thank you enough.”

Nutting, a pharmacist from Oakland, is about to begin his sixth House term. He served two terms as a member of the Appropriations Committee, which will play a central role in dealing with a huge state budget shortfall in the months ahead.

While noting that the Republicans finally have a majority “after years of asking,” he warned caucus members that voters will now expect action if the GOP is to remain in control in the years ahead.

“They’ll be watching for the next two years,” Nutting said.

Republicans campaigned this year on promises to ease regulations, stop government growth and oppose tax increases. On Nov. 2, they captured the House majority for the first time since 1972.

In 2003, Nutting was accused of overbilling the state for medical supplies sold to Medicaid clients.

The head of what was then the Department of Human Services issued a decision in the department’s billing dispute with True’s Pharmacy that asserted the business, owned by Nutting, owed the state at least $637,477 and as much as $2.3 million. At issue was the sale of incontinency and other supplies to Medicaid beneficiaries from 1997 to 2001.

Acting DHS Commissioner Peter Walsh settled on the lesser sum and ordered DHS officials and representatives of the pharmacy “to negotiate a payment plan, subject to my final approval.” It was unclear Friday whether the settlement was finalized.

Nutting, who closed the pharmacy in September 2003, conceded that money was owed to the department.

Besides Nutting and Davis, the other two candidates for House speaker were Reps. Andre Cushing of Hampden and Meredith Strang Burgess of Cumberland. A fifth candidate, Rep. Stacy Fitts of Pittsfield, dropped out before Friday’s voting.

Republican Gov.-elect Paul LePage addressed the caucus briefly, saying he looks forward to working with leadership and members in what’s widely expected to be a difficult session.

“The state of affairs in the state is in pretty tough shape upside down,” LePage said. “Well, it’s our job to put it right side up.”

The GOP House caucus also chose Rep. Philip Curtis of Madison as majority leader. Curtis, who was assistant minority leader during the last session, defeated Rep. Kathleen Chase of Wells for the post.

In the race for assistant majority leader, Cushing defeated Rep. Dale Crafts of Lisbon.

The full House will formally elect a new speaker after newly elected representatives are sworn in Dec. 1.

House Republicans bolstered their numbers by one seat Friday as Rep. Michael Willette of Presque Isle announced that he changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. Maine’s House of Representatives now has 78 Republicans, 72 Democrats and one independent.

“This was not an easy decision,” said Willette, who was re-elected last week for his second term in the Legislature. Willette said he has been convinced that Republicans have the clearest vision for an economic recovery.

 

The Kennebec Journal contributed to this report.