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Dan Tuohy's Granite Status: Bettencourt's star back on the rise with promotion

By DAN TUOHY
New Hampshire Union Leader

July 20. 2017 12:50AM


This week marks another chapter in the rise and fall, and a comeback inconceivable five years ago, of a rising star in New Hampshire politics.

One of the staff changes Gov. Chris Sununu announced Monday saw former disgraced House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt promoted to policy director. He was previously a policy adviser.

It’s quite a progression. In 2012, Bettencourt resigned after admitting to falsifying legal work he did as part of an internship while attending the University of New Hampshire Law School.

The Salem Republican, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2005 when he was 20, resigned and issued an apology to the House, his constituents, his family, and to the law school. “I was raised to be much better than this,” he wrote in his resignation. “To the extent I have fallen short, the fault is entirely my own.”

He was the youngest to ever rise to House Majority Leader. After his resignation, Bettencourt took steps to make amends with the law school. He has since received a degree, but has not taken the Bar. He served a stint as director of development and community relations for the Salem Animal Rescue League. He also launched Bettencourt & Associates LLC.

The governor named Bettencourt as a policy adviser back in January, when his term began. At the time, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley, citing the 2012 episode, said, “This is not a good start to the Sununu administration.”

It turned out to be just fine, according to Republicans who recalled seeing Bettencourt throw himself into the job, and the long hours and nitty-gritty of the executive branch staff working with the legislative branch to try to get things done.

In a phone interview, Sununu said Bettencourt was instrumental in much of his success this session. He said his legislative experience was invaluable in terms of work on the $11.8 billion state budget.

He sees his policy director for his contributions today, with his lapse five years ago not being part of the story. The governor noted Bettencourt was quick to admit his mistakes back in 2012.

“I can’t express enough not only my pleasure of having him on the team,” he said. “His trustworthiness with me is actually not in question.”

Former House Speaker Bill O’Brien, who urged Bettencourt to resign back in 2012, recalled that period as a big disappointment. He said Wednesday that Bettencourt’s promotion to policy director is evidence of past self-reflection and hard work. He called it “a natural maturation,” and Bettencourt a proven “problem-solver.”

Greg Moore, state director for Americans for Prosperity, said Bettencourt, who is now a father, demonstrated “a ton of humility” and a great work ethic. He recalled Bettencourt helping to run the GOP “victory” office in Salem in late 2016.

“I’ve got to give him credit,” Moore said. “Who doesn’t love a comeback story?”

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SECRETARY OF STATE Bill Gardner is not only the state’s chief election officer, he’s also the most successful politician in modern New Hampshire history.

He’s won 24 elections, the first three being for state representative from Manchester. He was first elected in 1972. He won his first term as Secretary of State in 1976, and then every two years, something like clock-work. The Constitution requires the Secretary of State to be chosen by a joint ballot of senators and representatives. And now the nation’s longest-serving Secretary of State is under the microscope for his participation in the President’s advisory commission on “election integrity.”

Of the thousands of letters and emails the commission has received since it requested voter roll information from states last month, a handful came from Granite Staters. Some chided Gardner for getting involved.

Terri O’Rorke sent an email, identifying herself with a Winchester zip code, expressing concern that the commission is the first of many attempts to push nationwide voting restrictions. “I’m also extremely disappointed in New Hampshire’s Secretary of State Bill Gardner, for going along with this,” she wrote. O’Rorke’s email was delivered, along with at least four others from the Granite State, via Common Cause, a non-partisan government watchdog group that opposes the commission’s access to state voter registration data.

“While the New Hampshire Secretary of State wants to hand over these data to the commission — an action that I as a NH citizen oppose — I am glad that many state election officials have put their duty to their citizens above this partisan attack on voters,” wrote Kevin Clark, of Canaan.

Vincent Duval, writing from a Hollis zip code, took issue with Trump’s allegation of mass voter fraud here. “There is no evidence of voter fraud, except for the fraud that is currently serving as the President,” Duval wrote.

The letters from these Granite Staters are posted on the commission’s website. The personally identifying information is restricted to name and their zip code, unlike some earlier letters that the commission posted, which contained more personal information of the sender, including cellphone numbers. Unlike some earlier letters, the New Hampshire emails are to the point. Some of the other public comments from irate writers are peppered with expletives.

Some notable Democrats have given Gardner grief for his participating in the President’s commission. Former national committeeman Peter Burling went so far as to say that maybe it’s time for the General Court to pick a new Secretary of State after 2018. State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, is not one of them. The Dean of the Senate has several times nominated Gardner to be Secretary of State. That doesn’t mean D’Allesandro is happy with him.

“I think Trump is using him because he has such a great reputation,” he said. “It’s a smart political move by Trump because he has credibility.”

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ABOUT THAT “Trumpcare” — The President’s political capital has so far failed spectacularly to muster support for GOP efforts to repeal-and-replace, or simply repeal, Obamacare. “Let Obamcare fail,” he said Tuesday, refusing to accept any blame for the collapse of a promise that predated his campaign. In May of 2015, here in Manchester, Granite Status asked him directly: “What would Trumpcare look like?” Trump responded in the sit-down interview about the importance of expanding competition and working out deals with hospitals and providers for the poor and the less fortunate. He said he would take care of everybody. On Obamacare, he was as blunt as he was non-specific. “I’d get rid of the whole thing. I think it’d be easier to just start all over again — repeal and replace it with something better.”

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QUICK TAKES:

• Speaking of D’Allesandro: He is holding his annual birthday bash this year at the Executive Court on South Mammoth Road (not at the Athens Restaurant, his usual venue) on July 31, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. He turns 79 on the 30th.

• U.S. Reps. Ann McLane Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, are co-sponsors of legislation to continue funding for the Northern Border Regional Commission for another five years. The President’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 would cut the commission, which is a federal-state partnership to direct funding for economic and community development works in the Northeast.

• Americans for Prosperity-NH will announce its legislative report card today, 6:30 p.m., at Stark Park in Manchester. The report grades state legislators on votes related to pro-growth policies. In the Senate, 10 will get “F” marks, we’ve learned. That may not quite match the partisan divide in the chamber. In the 400-seat House, for example, 225 get an “F,” when there are currently 169 Democrats, 220 Republicans, and three Libertarians. AFP-NH is hosting forums on “tax fairness.” The schedule: July 26, noon, at the Derryfield Restaurant in Manchester; Aug. 10, 6:30 p.m., at the Pittman’s Freight Room in Laconia; and Aug. 23, 6:30 p.m., at the Portsmouth Elks Lodge.

• Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard was named as the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police representative to serve on the Oversight Commission on Children’s Services, which was created under a new law to provide independent oversight of the state’s child protection system.

Dan Tuohy covers politics and government for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Email news and information to dtuohy@unionleader.com.


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