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Bar News - March 23, 2007

Concord Attorney to Congressman: Hodes’ Legal Skills Provide Base for Lawmaking



US Rep. Paul W. Hodes is off to a fast start in making his transition from Concord lawyer to New Hampshire congressman.


After ousting six-term incumbent Charles Bass with an eight-percentage point victory to claim New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District seat last November, Hodes’ star has kept rising. He was elected president of the freshman class. The duty is more than ceremonial; his work involves organizing the group of 42 Democrats, including NH colleague Carol Shea-Porter, who was swept into New Hampshire’s 1st District seat over two-term Republican incumbent Jeb Bradley.


His first House floor speech condemning the Iraq war was just 850 words, but it captured much of what he had said during his campaign. After voicing support for the troops, the Democrat denounced the recent military “surge” strategy. Hodes called President Bush’s war-time policy a fiasco and a diversion from the fight against terrorism.


Hodes spoke with the ease of an elder statesman, not a political neophyte. His apparent comfort in speaking, whether from prepared remarks or off the cuff, comes from three decades of being an attorney, he told the Bar News. Battle-tested before hostile juries; and grilled by judges and opposing counsel, the 56-year-old Hodes, formerly a partner at Shaheen & Gordon in Concord, finds it a natural fit serving as a political representative instead of a legal one.


“It’s been an interesting transition, going from billing hours to serving the people,” he said in a cell-phone interview en route to Capitol Hill after the February district work week.


New York City native Hodes and his wife, Peggo Horstmann Hodes, live in Concord, and only recently established lodging in Washington, DC within walking distance of Capitol Hill.


Hodes credits his legal background for his smooth transition to legislative life. A graduate of Dartmouth College, he earned his law degree from Boston College Law School in 1978. A year later, he was hired as an assistant attorney general by then-Attorney General David H. Souter. In 1982, Hodes was appointed a special state prosecutor, and became the first New Hampshire prosecutor to win a criminal conviction against an environmental polluter, according to his congressional biography.


In 1985, Hodes co-founded a private law practice in Manchester with Jamie N. Hage, now a partner at Nixon Peabody; George W. Roussos, now a partner at Orr & Reno, joined Hage & Hodes as a partner in 1988. Hodes left the firm in 1996 to join Shaheen and Gordon, where he practiced until launching his 2006 campaign.


Over the past three decades Hodes has volunteered for several nonprofit community and state agencies. He served on the board of directors for FamilyStrength, a group that provides counseling and support for New Hampshire families, and the New Hampshire Children’s Alliance. He served as chairman of the board for the Capitol Center for the Arts, from 1990 to 1996, which allowed Hodes to share his life-long love of music and the arts with the community.


As musicians and parents of two, he and Peggo pioneered rock’n‘roll music for children. They have released six albums of various styles, to critical acclaim. Hodes, a member of the American Federation of Musicians, wrote the book and lyrics for the political musical, The People’s House, which premiered in 2001.


Hodes ran unsuccessfully against Bass in 2004, and his current seat in the 110th Congress is his first political office.


His opponents are looking ahead to 2008. First-term congressmen in their first reelection bids, with only two years in office, are considered vulnerable.  Fergus Cullen, chairman of the New Hampshire State Republican Committee, thinks some Democrats are reading too much into the 2006 election results, and he puts Shea-Porter in the likely “one-term wonder” category, and hopes as well for a Hodes defeat as part of a GOP comeback next year.


Fellow New Hampshire lawyer Justin P. Nadeau sees Hodes as tough to beat. “What Paul Hodes brings to Congress is an understanding and a passion for the Constitution, what it means, and how it should be interpreted (for the people),” he said. “This is what he’s meant to do.”


The congressman is also working hard to solidify his connections to his district. In addition to his main district office in Concord, constitutent services offices recently opened in Keene and Nashua, and are in the works for Littleton and Berlin, according to Congressional District Director Mary Beth Walz, who oversees New Hampshire operations for Hodes. (Walz, a Democrat from Bow, is a legislator herself, and was recently reelected to her third term as a state representative. A member of the Children & Family Law Committee, Walz is a Franklin Pierce Law Center graduate who never practiced in the state, although she is admitted in New York, the District of Columbia and the Federal States of Micronesia.).


Nadeau, a Portsmouth attorney who was the Democratic nominee for the 1st District seat in 2004, said Hodes’ work ethic, intelligence, and innate curiosity have prepared him for Congress and will help him in what should be a heated re-election bid.


The reason so many attorneys run for political office is they have made helping and representing people their life’s work, Nadeau said. He added, in that respect, a politician’s job is similar to practicing law.


Hodes sits on the Financial Services Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. When he was given those assignments, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cited Hodes’ reputation as a tough prosecutor who could easily digest complicated financial matters. “We know that his diligence and institutional knowledge make him an excellent fit for the Financial Services Committee, which handles the complicated but crucial regulation of our finance and public housing systems,” she said in a statement.


While Hodes’ signature issues have included his opposition to the Iraq war and criticism of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism tactics, he cites other issues as priorities, including crafting an energy policy that promotes conservation and alternative fuels; revamping the health care system to expand access and affordability; and improving the “No Child Left Behind” law. The challenge, Hodes said, will be in earmarking enough time on each issue. Additionally, “the war in Iraq is going to stay on the front burner,” he said.


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