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'From Facebook to the world, in short order'



Last modified: Sunday, April 03, 2011
How word spreads. On Friday morning, after leading the passage of the New Hampshire House budget proposal, Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt posted a message on his personal Facebook page excoriating Catholic Bishop John McCormack, who had told demonstrators that budget-writers had not provided for the poor. Bettencourt called the 75-year-old bishop, once the subject of intense criticism over his role in investigating abuse allegations in the Boston archdiocese, a "pedophile pimp" who lacked moral credibility.

The post wasn't hidden behind privacy settings, and when we called Bettencourt an hour or two later, the 27-year-old House Republican leader said he wasn't surprised it had become public.

We published a story online shortly afterward. About 20 minutes later, we heard from the executive director of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, who saw the story in St. Louis. A few minutes after that, a Politico blogger linked to it in Washington.

It continued to spread. Once the Associated Press wrote a story, it was on newspaper sites across the country, from Bellingham, Wash., to Beaumont, Texas; Twin Falls, Idaho, to Houma, La. It led at least one Boston-area network newscast Friday night, and a New York Times political reporter wrote about it for the Saturday print edition.

Yesterday, Gov. John Lynch asked Bettencourt to retract his words.

"These comments have no place in the public discourse, and the people of New Hampshire have a right to expect a higher level of civility and judgment from their elected officials," Lynch said in a statement. "I would urge the majority leader to retract his comments."

Comments lined up on Bettencourt's Facebook page throughout Friday, many of them supportive. But by the end of the day, he had hidden the page of postings from view.

 Whodunit?

Deerfield Rep. John Reagan, chairman of the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee, appeared to be taking a strong stance against House budget cuts last month with a statement saying proposed cuts to human services "border on irresponsible."

The statement was distributed at a meeting of the House Finance Committee, and the Monitor quoted from it in the next day's story. But last week, Reagan told us the statement wasn't his. He said he first heard of it from another reporter. Reagan said he asked around about who distributed the handout, but uncovered no leads.

"We took it as far as we're going to take it," Reagan said. "We couldn't dust it for prints."

Reagan called the letter "pretty serious business" and said he was asked about it in the following days. "I had to run around and cover my reputation, when I shouldn't have had to do that," he said.

And he rejected the complaint attributed to him: "I think the budget was handled very responsibly. I supported the concept of first you'd find out how much money you have to spend before you make a spending plan."

 Going generic

A report released this week said New Hampshire's Medicaid program is the fourth-worst in the country at saving money by using generic prescriptions instead of brand names. State Medicaid officials question the study's methodology.

Findings by Alex Brill, a research fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, showed New Hampshire overspending by $16.78 per Medicaid enrollee in 2009 on a group of 20 commonly prescribed drugs.

Vermont was determined to be the worst-performing state, overspending by $31.43 per enrollee. Hawaii led the way by only overspending by $0.12 per enrollee. Brill calculated that a total of $329 million could have been saved in 2009 by states using more generic drugs.

But Doris Lotz, the state's Medicaid medical director, said the findings may not paint the whole picture. For five of the drugs studied, she said, the brand name prescription is actually cheaper through supplemental rebates - data that was not available to Brill - than the generic medication.

Lotz said New Hampshire has a 99.4 percent generic substitution rate - meaning that, if a generic is available, it is prescribed all but 0.6 percent of the time. In those cases, physicians must fill out paperwork explaining why the brand name is needed.

Brill recommended ways to improve generic use. Lotz said the state is following all of them except for capping how many brand prescriptions an enrollee can receive on Medicaid. She said New Hampshire tried a prescription limit in the 1980s, but it led to increased mental health hospitalization and emergency room visits.

"I think that's a very risky policy," Lotz said.

 Bass's NPR flip-flop

In this space last week, we questioned what had changed in the mind of Republican U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass. We noted that Bass recently voted with other Republicans to de-fund National Public Radio. But in 2005, Bass said he wanted public broadcasting funds returned to a House appropriations bill.

We got this response back from Bass spokeswoman Stephanie DuBois, slightly after our deadline: "As a longtime listener and supporter of New Hampshire public radio broadcasting, Congressman Bass recognizes the value and quality of this noncommercial service. However, as we continue to work to improve the economy and allow the private sector to create jobs, we have many tough funding decisions to make as we rein in the uncontrolled spending of the past couple of years."

So noted.

 Budget robo-calls

At least a couple of people last week reported receiving robo-calls drumming up support for the state budget proposed by the House.

Asked about the reports, Corey Lewandowski, state director for the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, said in an e-mail that he was not in a position to talk.

"However, AFP NH contacted people and asked them to call their elected officials to support the budget, which contained no taxes or fee increases and reduced spending" by over $742 million from current spending, Lewandowski wrote.

 Dem solidarity

House Democrats threw their weight 100 percent last week against a bill making changes to the state retirement system for public workers. Every single Democrat was there to vote against the bill, according Eileen Kelly, who works in the Democratic office.

"As far back as anyone here can remember - we've never had a vote like that!" Kelly wrote.

Of course, that didn't stop the proposal from passing 228-139. GOP leaders said the passage was another step toward reforming the pension system.

 Never too early

It wasn't long after Ann McLane Kuster announced her plans to run again for the 2nd District congressional seat that we spotted her at a rousing photo op.

Kuster told supporters Tuesday she would start working on her next campaign. Two days later, we spotted her at the State House rally against the House budget proposal, talking with people and having her picture snapped by former campaign manager Colin Van Ostern. Van Ostern, who says he is only volunteering this time around, said he took the afternoon off work and ran into Kuster at the rally.

 Biden in the state

Vice President Joe Biden is visiting UNH tomorrow with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to talk about sexual assault and violence on campus.

Biden's office said the vice president has long "led the fight to combat violence against women," in part by writing the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.

Still, young women aged 16 to 24 experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault, while one in five will be a victim of sexual assault during college, the White House said.

Biden will be speaking at 11:45 a.m. about awareness and policies to prevent violence and sexual assault against women.

 Appointments

The New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College announced that Patrick Griffin, a political strategist and analyst, will join the institute as a senior fellow this spring. Griffin has worked for George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, as well as Mitt Romney and John E. Sununu.

The institute said he will serve as a resource for students, faculty and the media through the 2012 presidential primary.

(Monitor reporter Matt Spolar contributed to this column. Karen Langley can be reached at 369-3316 or klangley@cmonitor.com. Shira Schoenberg can be reached at 369-3319 or sschoenberg@cmonitor.com.)