AUGUSTA – Republicans took control of both chambers of the Legislature on Wednesday with promises of bipartisanship, an improved business climate and a leaner government.

With a 78-72-1 majority, the GOP will run the House of Representatives for the first time since 1974.

Former House Speaker Richard D. Hewes of Cape Elizabeth, the last Republican to preside as speaker, watched Wednesday’s proceedings from the front of the chamber with his two daughters.

Republicans cheered as Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, picked up the gavel for the first time after taking the oath of office.

“We are stewards of a government that has become too burdensome, but that has much work still to do,” said Nutting, a 63-year-old pharmacist. “We must, at once, reduce the size and scope of government, while leveraging its force to clear the playing field of obstacles that prevent our people from realizing their full potential.”

In the Senate, Republicans hold a 20-14-1 majority.

In his address, Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said it’s time to work with Republican Gov.-elect Paul LePage to lower taxes and reduce energy costs.

“We must work to put Maine on a stronger foundation in the future by improving our business climate,” Raye said.

State House halls were packed Wednesday as family members came to the Capitol from around the state to see their loved ones take the oath of office from Gov. John Baldacci.

The outgoing governor — a Democrat whose eight years in office will end next month — reminded new lawmakers not to forget the sacrifices by their family members.

“They put up with a lot so we can do the work we do,” he said.

Traditionally, the House casts one ballot for speaker with unanimous consent from everyone in the chamber. On Wednesday, 11 Democrats voted in opposition to Nutting.

At a caucus Tuesday, some Democrats said they could not support Nutting because of billing irregularities at a pharmacy he ran in Oakland.

Nutting was found to have overbilled Medicaid by $1.6 million over a period of years. After declaring bankruptcy in 2003, he paid back $433,000 to the state and federal governments. Nutting has called the problem an honest mistake, and made no reference to it in his acceptance speech.

While nominating Nutting, House Majority Leader Phil Curtis, R-Madison, referred to “mean-spirited attacks” that Nutting and his family have endured since Republicans chose him as their nominee.

“He has been patient,” Curtis said. “He has been forthcoming. He has treated even his detractors with respect.”

House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, seconded the nomination of Nutting. “We expect and we know Speaker Nutting will listen to us and to our concerns,” she said.

While she laid out her expectations of the new speaker, Cain also spoke of the renewed controversy over Nutting and her hope that legislators can move on.

“It is the Republican caucus’ earned right to choose the next speaker,” she said. “I rise to tell Bob and my Republican friends across the aisle, we are ready and willing to work together.”

Raye, 49, a small-business owner from Washington County, said one of the first acts of this Legislature will be to create the Joint Select Committee on Regulatory Reform, designed to “ease the regulatory burdens on Maine’s job creators.”

As Senate president, Raye is the state’s de facto lieutenant governor, second in command should anything happen to the governor.

“For those of you who are just beginning your service in Augusta, you will find that while the headlines may shout about our disagreements, most of what is done here in Augusta is done in a bipartisan manner,” he said.

The GOP installed new people in positions of prominence, including the election of Heather Priest of Augusta as House clerk and Joseph G. Carleton Jr. of Wells as Senate secretary.

Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, said Democrats stand ready to help balance the budget and create a friendlier business environment.

“Being in the minority does not give us carte blanche to be a bone in the throat of the majority party,” he said. “Rather, it means we will offer constructive criticism, alternative vision and our collective knowledge to help forge important public policy.”

Democrats have been graceful during the transition, said Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney, R-Sanford.

“We understand that you are not accustomed to being in the minority and we are not accustomed to being in the majority,” he said. “We will both make mistakes in our new journey, but let us resolve together to work through the mistakes and put the people of Maine first.”

Also Wednesday, lawmakers elected a new Republican slate of constitutional officers.

In a joint House-Senate caucus, lawmakers elected William Schneider, a former legislator who is now an assistant U.S. attorney, to be attorney general. Schneider defeated the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Janet Mills.

Bruce Poliquin, a 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate who has headed a Wall Street investment management firm, was elected treasurer after facing no Democratic nominee.

Charles Summers Jr., a former congressional candidate who also served two state Senate terms, was elected secretary of state. He defeated the Democratic nominee and current secretary, Matthew Dunlap.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

[email protected]

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]