GOP ‘leadership’ in short supply

After digesting several days of dizzying activity among our highest-placed Republican leaders – and we use that term with extreme reluctance – we can’t decide what’s worse:

The disgraceful conduct that led to the “second” resignation of House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt on Sunday or the woefully inadequate response of his mentor, House Speaker William O’Brien, to the reasons he gave.

For if there ever was a sequence of events that demanded rapid condemnation by a party leader, Bettencourt’s actions over the past few weeks warrants placement at the top of that list.

The Salem Republican’s sordid tale began to unravel Friday, shortly after he announced he would resign at the close of the session June 6. He cited his upcoming marriage and a new job as executive director of the New Hampshire Legal Rights Foundation, a group founded by O’Brien whose mission is to “enhance liberties grounded in the United States and New Hampshire constitutions.”

But that explanation didn’t sit well with Rep. Brandon Guida, R-Chichester, who knew the real reason behind the 28-year-old’s sudden departure: he had fabricated more than 150 hours of legal work, including client meetings and court sessions that never happened, in his pursuit of law degree.

Guida, an attorney, had agreed to oversee a 165-hour internship Bettencourt was required to complete in order to graduate from the University of New Hampshire Law School. When Bettencourt only showed up at his office on one occasion for an hour’s work, Guida said he assumed the No. 2 leader in the House was too busy to undertake the internship at that time.

So we can imagine Guida’s surprise when he saw a posting on Bettencourt’s Facebook page about his participation in the law school’s graduation ceremonies May 19 – including photos of Bettencourt in a cap and gown posing with U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, an honorary degree recipient.

“When I saw that picture, I got a pit in my stomach,” Guida told us Monday afternoon. “I knew exactly what had happened.”

Upon obtaining documents from the school, Guida confronted Bettencourt after confirming what he had done. Bettencourt admitted to fabricating the documents and, after meeting with Guida and O’Brien, agreed to acknowledge his problems with the law school during Friday’s initial resignation announcement.

When he didn’t, Guida demanded that Bettencourt do so and resign immediately, which Bettencourt did by issuing a statement Sunday morning.

Now even for someone who once called the head of the Diocese of Manchester a “pedophile pimp,” Bettencourt’s behavior is inexcusable, to wit, fabricating documents that are required to enter a profession dedicated to upholding the laws of the nation. The only action that would have been more appropriate than resignation would have been expulsion.

But given O’Brien’s tepid response to this entire affair, even that may not have been a certainty.

“Certainly, we are disappointed to hear about Rep. Bettencourt’s resignation from the House,” O’Brien wrote in his initial public statement Sunday, praising him for helping to achieve a balanced budget among other accomplishments.

Really? Given Bettencourt’s admission, that’s the best the House speaker could do in his first public statement on his deputy’s blatant disregard for the public trust? He’s disappointed?

Just because we’re not surprised doesn’t make it acceptable.