By Holly South
Paul Smith, clerk of the New Hampshire House of Representatives since 2014 and a former state representative, was recently honored as one of the state’s “40 Under 40” by New Hampshire’s only statewide newspaper, the Union Leader.
The paper honors those who have made significant contributions to their field or community, and who have the potential to do even more in the future.
We thought this was a great excuse to talk to Paul, who is 36, and find out more about his accomplishments and life outside of the legislature.
He was surprised to be considered as one of the state’s “40 Under 40”; it’s “not often you see legislative staff [among the honorees].” That same weekend he also learned that he’d won the National Eagle Scout Association Outstanding Eagle Scout Award, recognition granted by the local council Eagle Scout association to Eagle Scouts who have demonstrated outstanding achievement at the local, state or regional level.
Loves His Job
Smith loves his job and has a deep appreciation for New Hampshire-style government. As he told the Union Leader, “Being the guardian of the rules, records and processes of such a storied institution is my greatest professional honor, and one I do not take lightly.
“I’m kind of a geek. I love parliamentary procedure and talking about rules and helping members navigate to be an effective legislator through the parliamentary process. Most clerks around the country are that same way. ... We’re not quirky, we’re clerky!”
In a state that cherishes its civic traditions, town meetings are a community focus and the legislature is the largest in the country, with 400 members representing 1.3 million residents. Elected officials serve only two-year terms; members of the House of Representatives and Senate receive annual salaries of $100. Smith likens serving in the state legislature to community service: “Even if someone has a political agenda, people are volunteering their time.” There’s “a lot of altruism involved.”
“Having served two terms [as a state representative] and having been on staff since 2005, [I know] that I truly wouldn’t want to be in any other legislature in the country. It’s often mocked for its size but it really seems to me that we’re the most democratic body in country. You can call up your state rep, you see them in the grocery store— – you have access.”
And his love of the legislature extends well beyond New Hampshire. In 2009 he had the opportunity to participate in a Rotary Group Study Exchange program. He spent a month in England and, as a British politics enthusiast, managed to check a big item off his bucket list: Sitting in Parliament for the Prime Minister’s Questions. It’s “great political theater!”
Learned a Lot
“As a brand-new state rep, [having] just turned 22, you realize, especially as a 22-year-old in a crowd of 400, that you’re somewhere down the list between the pebble or rock in someone’s shoe and the pavement.”
The biggest piece of advice he’d give to anyone joining the legislature? “Don’t make assumptions. Always be interested in what may come. I hate to use the term keep an open mind—but you should.” He also highlights the importance of the staff and emphasizes the need for new legislators to seek them out. “I’d recommend most to new legislators to take the advice and counsel of staff, especially those who have been here a long time.” Because most, especially the nonpartisan staff, don’t have an agenda. They’re “trying to help [legislators] be successful.”
Life Outside Work
While his position can be all-consuming at times—it’s a “24/7 job” and he’s frequently consulted on the weekends by representatives about legislation (e.g., how to phrase a floor amendment)—he’s also married with a 1-year-old son, and has many interests outside of work.
He serves as a high school football official, a Boy Scout leader, sings in his church choir, and has been an active member of the Freemasons since 2004, currently serving as grand commander of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar for New Hampshire.
Naturally he has an opinion on "The Da Vinci Code" and "The Lost Symbol," which famously feature the Freemasons. “The Dan Brown books brought people to us with questions—which sometimes leads to membership” but otherwise, while they may be good reads, “most of it’s crap. I wish there was a treasure and I wish I knew where it was!”
Like many, he says, he’s currently “completely taken with the Hamilton persona” and in the middle of Ron Chernow’s biography, "Alexander Hamilton." An avid reader, he also enjoys science fiction, nonfiction, history, and is a “big fan of Scotland.”
What Would He Like You to Know About New Hampshire?
Residents are “very much quintessential, stereotypic Yankees.” In addition to its renowned fall foliage and prevalence of flannel, Smith cites the “best [maple] syrup in the world” and “fantastic” sense of community. It’s “really a great place to live, work and raise a family.”
Read more about Paul, who is also a member of the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries executive committee, here.
Holly South is a policy associate with NCSL's Legislative Staff Services program.