Bettencourt's Bright Star Burns Out
Local legislators lament former majority leader's departure.
When former House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt first ran for state representative in Salem, locals could tell he was a young man with a bright future in politics.
Eight years later, Bettencourt has left the Legislature amidst scandal, leaving his local compatriots to look back with disappointment, albeit with some hope for his political future.
Bettencourt, 28, issued his immediate resignation from the House on Sunday. He originally announced his intent to resign effective June 6 to focus on his job as executive director of the New Hampshire Legal Rights Foundation and his family with his soon-to-be-wife Shannon Shutts, a staffer for House Speaker William O'Brien.
But Rep. Brandon Giuda, R-Chichester, came forward saying Bettencourt had faked internship reports to the University of New Hampshire School of Law. Giuda said Bettencourt claimed he'd spent a semester interning at Giuda's law office, which Giuda said wasn't true. Bettencourt admitted "misrepresenting" his reports and apologized for his actions.
Thus ended a career in the Legislature that began in 2004 when Bettencourt, a 20-year-old lifelong Salem resident, ran for a seat in the House, according to his extensive Patch profile biography. A year earlier, Bettencourt served as special aide to then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, now the presumptive Republican nominee for president.
Rep. Ron Belanger, R-Salem, recalled seeing him and his family members putting up election signs in 2004.
"I went over to (Bettencourt), shook his hand and wished him the best of luck," Belanger said Tuesday. "He was very cordial and polite."
Former House Speaker Donna Sytek of Salem said she saw an "ambitious" young man in Bettencourt that year.
"He's a gifted speaker and writer...he's terribly articulate," Sytek said. "This was a young man who could go places."
"He had a great deal of promise," said Rep. John Sytek, R-Salem, of Bettencourt.
Rep. Robert Elliott, R-Salem, said Bettencourt encouraged him to run for the Legislature in 2006. Elliott called Bettencourt's rise through the Concord ranks "meteoric."
"(Bettencourt) set the speed record," said John Sytek, adding that Bettencourt was part of a strong group of young Republicans he expected would take the reins in the Legislature.
Bettencourt made majority caucus whip in 2005 and served as a minority whip during 2009 and 2010. After the GOP landslide election of 2010, Donna Sytek said Bettencourt saw an opportunity to move up in the leadership.
For the first time, Republicans held an election to choose the majority leader. Sytek said the majority leader is typically selected by the speaker, a process Sytek prefers.
"You can't serve two masters," Sytek said.
Despite that, she believed Bettencourt served as an effective majority leader. At 27, Bettencourt was the youngest House majority leader in the country and the youngest ever in the state.
"Because of the skills he has, he was able to deliver the votes," she said. "It's too bad this scandal is going to distract from the accomplishments of this session."
Belanger said he believed Bettencourt was the best majority leader he'd worked with in his years in Concord.
"Some people were jealous of him because of his age and how smart he was," Belanger said. "He'd use words sometimes that I'd have to go look up. But he always handled himself professionally. He was a remarkable asset to the state of New Hampshire."
John Sytek said there was "no question" about how strong Bettencourt was in that position, although he often disagreed with the tenor of Bettencourt's writing.
"He remained accessible," Sytek said.
Bettencourt was the key sponsor on a bill that would allow for local municipalities to enact tax caps in 2010. He sponsored a constitutional amendment prohibiting an income tax. He served on the Ways & Means and Judiciary committees before becoming majority leader.
He was one of the leading voices throughout this legislative session about reducing the size of state government and attempting to balance the budget, which he told Patch last week was his best accomplishment in the House. He strongly backed the latest proposal to bring casino gambling to Rockingham Park, which failed.
Bettencourt made headlines in 2010 when he called Catholic Bishop John McCormack a "pedophile pimp" on his own Facebook page, for which Bettencourt later apologized to McCormack.
Later that year, Bettencourt was accused of falsifying mileage reimbursement forms, with opponents claiming he was living in Pembroke but was claiming mileage to Salem. A House counsel report cleared Bettencourt of any wrongdoing.
Days before announcing his resignation from the House, Bettencourt was appointed to the Salem Economic Development Action Committee by the Board of Selectmen, marking his first time holding local office.
His initial announcement Friday that he intended to resign June 6 at the end of the legislative session set in motion the series of events that led to his immediate resignation Sunday.
"I was shocked, and I feel a great sadness," Elliott said Tuesday.
"I'm very shocked, very disappointed and very upset," Belanger added.
Donna Sytek called the circumstance surrounding Bettencourt "a tragedy." But she would not rule out a political future for Bettencourt.
"He's not even 30 yet," she said. "He still has time to rehabilitate his image."
Bettencourt did not respond Tuesday for a request for an interview.