New Hampshire's Virtual Town Hall
Some legislators on both sides of the aisle in the New Hampshire House are questioning who knew what -- and when -- in the sorry series of events that led to House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt’s hasty resignation.
The question has to be asked -- and it has to be investigated: What did House Speaker William O’Brien know and when did he know it?
"If there was to be an investigation, I would certainly support that to find out what the speaker knew, when he knew it, and why he didn't handle it differently," said Republican Rep. Julie Brown of Rochester told Foster’s Daily Democrat.
Added Democrat Peter Schmidt of Dover in the same article: "All of this is just a pastiche of lies and misrepresentation and fraud, and it's absolutely stunning," said Rep. Peter Schmidt, a Dover Democrat. He asked that Rep. Terie Norelli of Portsmouth, the House Democratic leader, seek an inquiry into O'Brien's conduct.
The circumstances and timing are unsettling.
Out of the blue on Friday, May 25, Bettencourt (pictured here) announced his intention to resign from the House effective June 9.
He said he had just graduated from the University of New Hampshire School of Law, was going to get married (his fiance works in the speaker’s office), and start a new job.
That job as executive director of the New Hampshire Legal Rights Foundation, a nonprofit legal advocacy group founded by House Speaker Bill O'Brien.
Yes, his job would have conflicted with his representation of Salem in the House and his role as majority leader. But it couldn’t have waited? This 2012 session of the Legislature is supposed to end on June 31. It seems odd that the need to leave was so pressing that he couldn’t at least finish up his work with the Legislature and the party leadership, particularly in the waning days as the final pieces of legislation are being negotiated between the House and Senate.
Then the other shoe dropped on Saturday, May 26.
Republican Rep. J. Brandon Giuda accused Bettencourt of fabricating internship reports involving Giuda’s law firm that allowed Bettencourt the credits to earn his law degree.
"D.J. Bettencourt needs to be honest," Giuda said to the Union Leader. "He needs to admit that he's lied all along, that he falsified these records, that he dishonored the House. He needs to apologize to the House and the citizens of New Hampshire and he needs to step down now."
Bettencourt resigned, effective immediately, on Sunday, May 27.
He said: "It is true that I misrepresented work as work I performed for Attorney Giuda. I take full responsibility for my conduct; I apologize to my family, friends, colleagues and above all my constituents.”
Then O’Brien started to circle the wagons.
On Monday, Memorial Day, May 28, he sent around an email to his GOP caucus saying: "There will be those that say that D.J.'s failure and his resignation characterize our current majority. Others will say that it characterizes the leadership of our caucus. Neither is true."
What O'Brien really needs to do -- and what legislators need to press him to do -- is be entirely forthcoming about the extent of his role in the Bettencourt matter. For example: Did he know of the internship issue and seek to bail him out with a job at the foundation?
There are more questions than answers at this point, and until they are addressed they’ll reflect poorly on the New Hampshire House.
One post script, so far: The Legal Rights Foundation announced today (May 29) it had “cancelled the contemplated relationship with former State Rep. D.J. Bettencourt that had been under consideration for the past several months.”