Diapergate Weakens Presumptive Maine House Speaker
Since he was nominated by the Republican House caucus as their candidate for Speaker last week, a steady drumbeat of stories from Maine media outlets have shed light on the investigation, legal proceedings and subsequent bankruptcy of Rep. Bob Nutting's pharmacy earlier this decade.
True's Pharmacy, owned by Nutting, overbilled MaineCare by $1.6 million on sales of adult diapers, bed liners, and other incontinency products. Nutting only repaid about $433,000 of the total before he declared bankruptcy in 2003, shuttering the business and leaving the state without the ability to collect the rest of the misallocated funds.
Nutting claims the whole thing was an honest mistake and that there was confusion around what formula should have been used in charging the state and federal government for the products. According to a report in the MaineToday newspapers, however, the state was overbilled by Nutting at a higher rate than even the incorrect formula he said he was using would have allowed.
Politically, Nutting's grip on the Speaker's gavel seems to be holding. House Republican leaders have lined up to support him and have attempted to downplay the incident as a case of government overreach and interference in business.
There is however, some signs of dissention from within the GOP and the caucus. Dan Billings, a party lawyer and activist, wrote on As Maine Goes today that "From what I hear, the people who are making the most of this issue are people who supported another candidate for Speaker."
The Bangor Daily News also published a scathing editorial today titled "The Nutting Problem," warning that "The moral high ground Republicans believe they occupy in Augusta may turn into quicksand if they stand by their speaker-designate, Robert Nutting" and that "A speaker of the House who was able to walk away from a $1.2 million debt to the state begins resembling, on a grander scale, the welfare deadbeats that candidate LePage and tea party activists railed against."
In response to the piece, Billings wrote another post on the conservative message board arguing that "The BDN knows that if the GOP backs down on this, it will establish that the GOP will back down whenever they get public criticism. That is why they are saying Nutting should step aside because they know, if he does, the party will be weaker."
In my opinion, this points to the major reason why Nutting will likely keep his nomination. House Republicans are worried about the political damage it would cause for their first act as a new majority, the selection of their nominee for Speaker, to go down in flames. They've made their choice and they feel they have to stick with it.