Bettencourt speaks

The Chron is finally able to reach Paul Bettencourt for a comment on his sudden resignation.

“I’ve had a wonderful 10 years of service with great people at the office who have done good things for the taxpayers of Harris County,” Bettencourt, 50, said Saturday, a day after word of his planned departure was leaked to the media and broken on the late-night news.

“But there comes a time when you decide that further challenges await you and that you know you need to accept those challenges before maybe you get to the age where someone won’t offer you the opportunity,” he said.

It is almost unheard of for an incumbent to resign before being sworn in to his new term, Rice University political scientist Bob Stein said. The timing of Bettencourt’s decision was suspect, he said, because a lesser-known Republican might have struggled to win in a year Democrats so heavily dominated countywide elections.

Bettencourt said he first entertained the idea of leaving the county during the summer, well after the GOP primary, when it looked like he and every other Republican in Harris County were headed for defeat. But he insisted no serious discussions about the offer he chose to accept occurred before the Nov. 4 election.

“This business venture is something that took shape after the election and not before,” he said.

“You can always think pie in the sky, what do I do if the election doesn’t turn out your way. It’s another thing to have a thought like that and be approached to have a discussion about a new business venture.”

You know what? I’ve decided I don’t actually care whether this job came along before or after the election. I just want to know, does the fact of his election and his presumed commitment to the people who voted for him not mean anything? I realize it’s a quaint concept these days, but do the words “public service” not ring any bells for him, or for his predecessor in skipping out, Robert Eckels? Maybe the campaign theme for Harris County Democrats in 2010 ought to be “If Elected, I Promise To Actually Stay On The Job”. I’ll say again, I’m thrilled to see the back of Paul Bettencourt, but I remain stunned and appalled at the cavalierness and selfishness he displays here. Though I doubt he has the capacity for it, he ought to be ashamed of himself.

Bettencourt declined to discuss the job he was taking, saying the state Board of Tax Professional Examiners bars him from endorsing a business while he remains in office. He said he hopes to boost his salary of $141,000 a year but may not be able to if the venture is unsuccessful.


Last month, the Harris County Democratic Party sued Bettencourt, complaining of his handling of about 7,000 provisional ballots cast in the Nov. 4 election and accusing him of illegally rejecting voter registration applications. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The controversy, he said Saturday, played no role in his decision to leave the county post.

I highlight this part of the story because of Paul Burka‘s comment in my previous post, in which he points out that Bettencourt might be thinking of the potential legal bills he could be faced with defending himself from that lawsuit. Given what we saw with the Nathan Hecht experience, I can certainly appreciate that concern. However, it sounds like Bettencourt is leaving for a potentially risky venture, which doesn’t strike me as being consistent with that kind of concern. Further, I say there’s no way that the state Republican establishment would have let Bettencourt hang out to dry on this, especially if the case turned into a project of the Obama Justice Department as Burka speculates it could. The GOP money people saved Bill Ceverha’s bacon in a similar situation. They totally would have had Bettencourt’s back, and I know he knew that. So while that’s an interesting idea, I still don’t agree with it.

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