SALEM, N.H. — Saying "the time is right," New Hampshire House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, announced his resignation last night.
While New Hampshire Republicans praised him for his service, the state Democratic Party agreed with Bettencourt — the time is right for him to step down and not seek re-election.
Bettencourt, 28, issued a statement about 5 p.m. saying personal and professional commitments prevent him from continuing his eight-year legislative career.
"While it has been an honor to serve in the Legislature representing the citizens of Salem and Windham and to serve as majority leader, it is time for me to move on to the next exciting phase of my life," he said.
His final day, June 6, is also the last day of the legislative session, he said.
It will mark the end of what Democrats say has been a tumultous, two-year GOP reign in Concord. Republicans say Bettencourt has helped usher in much-needed fiscal responsibility.
Bettencourt said other priorities in his life made it necessary for him to leave the Legislature.
Last week, he graduated from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and will wed Shannon Shutts, spokeswoman for the House GOP office, on June 2.
Bettencourt said he also recently began a job that would conflict with his duties as a lawmaker.
"I'm getting married next week and I am at a point in my life where my family should and needs to be my first priority," he said.
"It is also critical that I am able to focus my full attention on my role as executive director of the New Hampshire Legal Rights Foundation," Bettencourt said. "This cannot happen while there is the potential for conflict with my role as a member of the House."
The foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to "defending and expanding individual rights and personal freedoms throughout New Hampshire," according to its website. Its vice chairman is House Speaker William O'Brien.
Reached shortly after his announcement, Bettencourt said he's been doing work for the organization for a few months but now must devote more time to the foundation. "It needs someone who can focus full time on the needs of the organization," he said.
Bettencourt said leaving the Legislature will be "very difficult" but he believes the state is headed in the right direction thanks to the work of his party. He also thanked his constituents.
Published reports have raised questions about the GOP leadership following the recent resignation of staff member Robert Mead for undisclosed reasons.
Bettencourt said he is most proud of the fact that lawmakers reduced a billion-dollar deficit while sticking to their goal of not raising taxes or fees. "It was a very difficult task, but we got the job done," Bettencourt said.
Bettencourt's colleagues, including state Republican Party Chairman Wayne MacDonald, praised his work.
"With his help, our Republican Legislature has been turning the economy around and has reduced the state's bloated budget," MacDonald said in a statement.
House Finance Committee Chairman Kenneth Weyer, R-Kingston, praised Bettencourt as well. He hadn't heard Bettencourt would be leaving. "I was impressed with the job he did," Weyler said. "I supported him."
Weyler said Bettencourt was well spoken and learned from his mistakes, including a few times when the young lawmaker was criticized for remarks he made.
They include an incident last year when Bettencourt called Bishop John McCormack a "pedophile pimp" after McCormack spoke out against proposed state budgets cuts at a rally. Bettencourt posted the remarks on his Facebook page, criticized McCormack for not protecting those sexually abused by the clergy when the bishop served in Massachusetts.
Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, offered his praise as well.
"He was good and effective in many ways," Bates said. "He had an impressive record."
Bettencourt, elected at age 20, was the youngest majority leader in state history.
"That's an impressive accomplishment," Bates said.
But New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesman Collin Gately wasn't as kind in his remarks.
"It looks like D.J. is getting out before the voters of New Hampshire can vote him out," he said.
Gately questioned the timing of yesterday's early evening announcement — the beginning of the three-day Memorial Day weekend.
Gately said the public is fed up with the current Republican leadership, which has been widely criticized for slashing funding for human service programs Democrats feel are sorely needed.
He said O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, and other members of the GOP leadership will be the next to go.
"The Tea Party has done a lot of damage," Gately said. "And come November, House Speaker Bill O'Brien and the others will be voted out. That will be a step forward for New Hampshire."
Another Democrat, state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro of Manchester, was guarded in his remarks about Bettencourt, saying he wished him "nothing but the best."
Bettencourt and the GOP leadership brought a "different style and a different tone" to the Legislature, he said.
"I wish him well in his future endeavors and I wish the Legislature well in its future endeavors," he said.
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