Above, Franklin Pierce University marching band performs at the Governor and Executive Council meeting Wednesday at the university. Paula Tracy photo
By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
RINDGE – Deputy Commissioner of Insurance, David J. (D.J.) Bettencourt of Salem, was confirmed as commissioner on a vote of 4-1 with the lone Democrat, Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington opposing the nomination.
Supreme Court Justice Gary Hicks stepped down, leaving the governor with an opportunity to nominate a new justice of the state’s highest court. Hicks will turn 70 in November, the current mandatory age for retirement for a judge in New Hampshire.
The New Hampshire Increase Mandatory Retirement Age for Judges Amendment is on the ballot in New Hampshire as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment on November 5, 2024. It would raise the mandatory retirement age to 75 years old if two-thirds of the voters approve.
The Executive Council met Wednesday at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge for its fifth meeting on the road this summer. The meeting began with the FPU Marching Band starting things off by playing the national anthem.
BETTENCOURT GETS THE NOD
Bettencourt will succeed Christopher Nicolopoulos of Bow who resigned and will earn a salary of $133,648 for a term that ends on June 9, 2028.
The only discussion on the nomination was from Executive Councilor Joe Kenney of Wakefield, a Republican, who said he wanted to see Bettencourt step down from his elected municipal position as councilor on the Town Council. His term expires there in March 2026.
“Sometimes they bleed over,” in issues between municipal and state, Kenney said.
Gov. Chris Sununu said it was his understanding that Bettencourt was going to resign his post in Salem.
Bettencourt was House Majority Leader, a Republican state representative from Salem in 2012 when he resigned amid a scandal for falsifying internship documents while studying at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.
Last year, Bettencourt was also charged with domestic violence and was placed on paid leave but returned to work soon after charges were dropped.
He was tapped in 2017 to be Sununu’s policy director and has been a close political ally of the governor.
Bettencourt led the Governor’s Economic Re-Opening Task Force during the pandemic and was then hired deputy commissioner of insurance in January 2021.
In his May 12 letter to Sununu about his nomination, Bettencourt said the department of 87 employees has gone through four different commissioners in seven years and said if made commissioner, he would request a workplace culture audit of the department as well as put together a comprehensive employee engagement survey.
He said he has worked on overhauling the consumer outreach programs, strengthening the state’s individual insurance market and establishing ties with the legislature.
During a public hearing on his nomination, he apologized for his actions in 2012 relating to falsified documents but rejected assertions that the governor nominated him because of their longtime relationship.
“The governor did not ask me to come to the insurance department as a favor or a reward,” Bettencourt said.
He said criticism that he has little insurance experience is perhaps just, but over the past three years as deputy he said the team at the department has worked well to move licensing issues forward.
He said he wants to make New Hampshire “the gold standard for mental health parity” and expressed his commitment to play a leading role and wants to take action to protect small group markets for affordable employee insurance.
Attorney General John Formella spoke in favor of the nomination at the public hearing saying Bettencourt has overcome his mistakes and grown from them.
“D.J. is not perfect,” Formella said, “but he is absolutely worthy of this position.” State Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, was the only person who spoke in opposition to the nomination at the hearing.
Horrigan said Bettencourt is smart but unqualified for the job as Commissioner of Insurance and his performance as deputy commissioner has been unimpressive.
He said Bettencourt got caught in a lie “and it still matters.”
Warmington asked a number of questions surrounding both his personal character and his experience for the job.
SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE STEPS DOWN
A vacancy exists on the state’s highest court.
Gary E. Hicks, of Manchester, resigned effective Nov. 30, due to age restrictions, “which I think is a really dumb law,” Sununu said.
Hicks served as interim chief justice for a time.
“I shall miss the job – it has been the honor of my professional life,” Hicks said.
It is likely that Sununu, who has about 16 months left in his term will nominate a replacement.
NH HUNTING AND FISHING DAY SEPT 23
The Governor and Executive Council issued a proclamation for Sept. 23 as New Hampshire Hunting and Fishing Day. It honors the tradition and notes that more than 250,000 sportsmen enjoy the woods and water annually and help the economy with more than $22.4 million in sales.