After 8 years in legal aid, Feltes eyes a seat in the State House
As Joanne Keough stood in her Dakin Street doorway, State Senate candidate Dan Feltes launched into his pitch for her vote.
Under the hot Saturday morning sun, Feltes detailed his eight years at New Hampshire Legal Assistance, which advocates for low-income and elderly clients in court and at the State House. He mentioned his work on a bill that allows part-time workers, like those who have recently lost their jobs at Market Basket, to apply for unemployment benefits.
“That’s good work,” Keough told him.
She promised him her vote, asked for a pamphlet for her daughter and closed the door. Feltes turned to his wife, Erin, for a high five.
In just a few weeks, Feltes will be one of two names on the Democratic primary ballot for the District 15 seat. A 35-year-old Concord attorney, he is working to distinguish himself on his track record with Legal Assistance and his ideas for legislation that would support working families.
“I think voters should vote for me because I have a track record of standing up to powerful interests, both in court and in the state legislature,” Feltes said in an editorial board interview at the Monitor. “And I have the experience that I think I can deliver for ordinary people, for the little guy so to speak, for working people.”
Feltes grew up in Iowa in a family of four children. As a young child, he said he remembers when his father went on strike at the furniture factory where he worked. Once he had graduated from the University of Northern Iowa, Feltes went on to earn a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and a law degree from the University of Iowa. In 2006, he moved to New Hampshire and took a job at New Hampshire Legal Assistance.
Ned Helms, director of the New Hampshire Institute for Health Policy and Practice at the University of New Hampshire, first met Feltes when he was studying for the bar exam. In the years since, Helms said he has been impressed by both Dan and Erin’s involvement in the Democratic Party in New Hampshire.
“I love that a guy who has been so deeply involved in presidential campaigns and local campaigns and building the Democratic party has the enthusiasm and the desire to (run),” Helms said. “It would just be wonderful to have Dan be able to hold that standard . . . for District 15.”
Helms hosted a kick-off party for Feltes’s campaign in his backyard earlier this summer.
“There’s a group of . . . younger people who have come into the party, that have just breathed an enormous amount of life into it,” Helms said.
An attorney, an advocate
Eight years ago, Feltes and Sarah Mattson started their new jobs at Legal Assistance in the same week. Feltes eventually became the director of the organization’s Housing Justice Program, though he has resigned to pursue the District 15 seat. Mattson, 35, is now the policy director. Speaking in her personal capacity as a friend of Feltes, Mattson said her colleague is “an incredibly versatile advocate.”
Mattson ticked off different cases Feltes has argued in his career – cases for individual clients, class-action cases, Supreme Court cases. She remembered one in particular – in 2010, Feltes took an appeal to the Supreme Court that eventually won his disabled client financial assistance from the city of Franklin.
“It was a case that opened up the possibility of local welfare to a whole new class of people,” Mattson said.
She cited educational programming he has hosted for landlords and property managers, as well as his work in the State House. Feltes said his experience as a lobbyist in part convinced him to run for office.
“I know what kind of powerful impact the state Senate can have on shaping the lives of ordinary people, and that’s why I’m running,” he said. “I wouldn’t leave the job I love if I didn’t think I could make an even bigger positive impact on the state and influence more people.”
If elected, Feltes has said he would seek part-time legal work at a law firm that does not lobby. His wife, Erin, is an attorney for Drummond Woodsum, which does also not lobby at the New Hampshire State House.
Feltes touted his legislative experience as he went door-to-door in the South End last weekend. On Glen Street, Neta Aldrich emerged from her flowers in kneepads and gardening gloves to meet the candidate. He crouched slightly to talk to the older woman, telling her about working on a law that now gives unemployment benefits to part-time workers, like those who have recently lost jobs at Market Basket.
“That’s important,” Aldrich said. “How about minimum wage?”
He explained he would support an increase in the minimum wage, and Aldrich nodded approvingly.
“I hope I can count on your vote on Sept. 9,” he said as they parted ways.
“We’ll find out,” she replied, turning back to her garden.
A voice in the Senate
Feltes filed to run for the District 15 seat just hours before the June deadline. Less than two weeks after he announced his candidacy, Feltes released a list of supporters that included Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern. In the weeks since, Feltes has collected endorsements from the New Hampshire Young Democrats, the State Employees’ Association, the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire and various community leaders.
“I think Dan started the race a little bit behind, frankly, because he came into the race a little bit later than his opponent,” Van Ostern said.
Van Ostern met Feltes when the two worked on U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster’s campaign in 2010. Feltes has hosted house parties for candidates such as Kuster, Van Ostern and now-Gov. Maggie Hassan in the years since. Van Ostern remembered one party to support President Obama in 2011 when Vice President Joe Biden showed up at the Feltes’ house in the South End as a surprise guest.
“I was very excited to support (Dan),” Van Ostern said. “It helps that I knew him personally, and he has stood with me and other candidates he has supported in the past.”
Van Ostern said he believes Feltes would be “a voice for people who don’t otherwise have one.”
“It’s one of the most progressive and one of the most Democratic district of the state. … I think it’s really important to have someone who is running to be a champion for progressive issues and to really make progress on those issues,” Van Ostern said.
Concord attorney Andru Volinsky, who also considered a run in District 15, agreed. Because this seat is likely to stay Democrat, he said the winner can be bold about his or her Democratic policies in the legislature.
“I think this senator has the ability to be more of a shaper of public policy and less of a politician, and that impacts my view of the two candidates and was the reason why I chose Dan,” Volinsky said. “I think he’s much more of an advocate for the positions he supports.”
That’s the message Feltes is pushing on the campaign trail. As he readied himself for another day of canvassing and house parties last weekend, he rubbed sunscreen on his arms and glanced at Erin’s clipboard to check the next address.
Then, he strode up to another doorbell.
“Let’s go get some votes,” he said.