WINDHAM — His former constituents are divided over whether the circumstances surrounding Rep. D.J. Bettencourt's resignation are a case of human frailty or political corruption.
Bettencourt resigned from the State House last weekend after admitting he falsified information about the amount of work he did as an intern in the law office of another state representative while pursuing a law degree.
Travis Blais, chairman of the Windham Republican Town Committee, suspects that Bettencourt tried to take on too much.
“Being Majority Leader and a law student are each a full-time job,” Blais said. “He probably found himself in a hole, got desperate, and did something really terrible to get himself out.”
Bettencourt should have told someone he was having trouble meeting graduation requirements. A friend probably could have stopped Bettencourt from exacerbating the problem, Blais said.
“It's a cautionary tale to us all,” Blais said.
Windham resident Dennis Senibaldi said that Bettencourt's reason for resigning doesn't nullify the work he's done at the State House. He hopes that Bettencourt doesn't lose everything over his mistake, Senibaldi said.
“People make mistakes,” Senibaldi said. “Once he pays for what he did, hopefully he can rebuild from there.”
Others see the incident as a symptom of a larger problem at the State House and feel that rebuilding begins with acknowledging the seriousness of the situation.
“I am disappointed not only in Mr. Bettencourt's actions, but in the timing and nature of resignation,” said Kristi St. Laurent, chair of the Windham Democratic Town Committee. “Both his mentor in Concord (Speaker William O'Brien) and his internship mentor (Rep. Brandon Giuda) must have recognized long before graduation that the internship requirements were not being fulfilled and counseled him appropriately. The fact that O'Brien and Bettencourt were in House leadership while conducting themselves in this way is a poor reflection on our citizen Legislature.”
As chairman of the Salem Democratic Town Committee, Larry Disenhof said he disagreed with a majority of Bettencourt's politics. Like many of his peers, he said he's shocked by the circumstances of Bettencourt's departure.
“I personally wish D.J. well,” Disenhof said. “He's going to have a lot to rebuild.”
His larger concern is O'Brien's comment that he was disappointed by Bettencourt's resignation, Disenhof said.
“To me that speaks volume about the character of this house,” Disenhof said.
Disenhof said it's time to focus on the current leadership and the issues facing the state right now.
“We need to move forward and we need to work on reversing the damage that's been done,” Disenhof said.
Pat Hargreaves, chairman of the Salem Board of Selectmen, accepted Bettencourt's resignation from the Economic Development Action committee on Tuesday. Bettencourt cited “recent personal circumstances” in his decision to step down.
“There's more to the story than what seems to be,” Hargreaves said. “Everybody in this country is innocent until proven guilty.”
Hargreaves met Bettencourt when he first ran for office and continues to believe in him, he said. He's reluctant to comment without knowing all the facts, Hargreaves said.
“I hate seeing a good man lose his political career over something that could have been dealt with in a more diligent manner,” Hargreaves said.