On November 15, 1948, the small northeast Washington city of Colville holds a parade down Main Street to welcome Representative Charles W. Hodde (1906-1999) home from Olympia, where he has just been named Speaker of the state House of Representatives. Hodde is a veteran Democratic legislator who was elected to his fifth term representing Colville and nearby portions of Stevens and Pend Oreille counties in the general election two weeks earlier. In that election Democrats reclaimed the majority in the House of Representatives, allowing them to name the Speaker, who determines what legislation the House will consider and is thus one of the most powerful officials in the state. Hodde will serve four years as Speaker and gain a reputation as a one of the most knowledgeable and effective leaders to hold the position.
Farmer, Lobbyist, Legislator
Charles Hodde was born in Missouri in 1906. As a young man he moved to Colville, a small farming and logging community in Stevens County, renting a farm that he would later buy. He married Helen Lola Mighella in 1933 and they had three children. Hodde became active with the Washington State Grange, a farmers' organization that was a powerful progressive force in state politics in the 1930s. By the middle of the decade Hodde was the state Grange's third-highest official and an influential lobbyist in Olympia. He surprised observers and won the nickname "King of the Lobbyists" when he led the Grange's successful effort to get the Legislature to adopt Washington's unique blanket primary system in 1935. (The popular blanket primary, which allowed voters to cross party lines on their primary election ballots, was invalidated by the courts in 2003.)
Hodde's lobbying success gained the attention of the local Democratic party, which in 1936 recruited him to run for a vacant House of Representatives seat in the 2nd District, representing areas of Stevens and Pend Oreille counties. He won and played an active role in the 1937 legislative session. Hodde was narrowly defeated when he ran for re-election in 1938. The loss was actually "a break for me," Hodde explained in an oral history interview, because it allowed him to build up some income after the hard times of the Depression:
"[T]his gave me a period when I was very active and times were getting better. I mean, very active in private entrepreneuring: logging, wiring houses, farming, and it was the first time that I really began to make a little money, and began to feel like I was making a success at my own business" (Hodde, 1986, p. 89).
After four years of "private entrepreneuring," Hodde ran again for the House seat in 1942, winning then and in the next four elections. During the 1943 and 1945 legislative sessions Hodde and his Democratic colleagues held a comfortable majority in the state House of Representatives, as Democrats had since the Roosevelt landslide of 1932. However, in the post-war election of 1946 a nationwide Republican sweep gave the Republicans control of the House for the first time since 1931 and Hodde found himself part of a small Democratic minority.
Speaker of the House
The volatile electorate reversed itself two years later and on November 2, 1948, Hodde was one of 67 Democrats elected to the House, giving them the majority by more than two to one. Now a skilled veteran entering his fifth term, Hodde began campaigning for the Speaker's post even as the returns came in. Years later he told an interviewer:
"[I]n those days election returns were handled pretty good by radio, not so much by TV; there were still a lot of people that didn’t have TV in their homes. I sat up, like every other politician running for office, until midnight. By midnight, I counted up that we had a majority of Democrats in the House and I remember telling my wife, Helen, 'By golly, I’m going to start campaigning for Speaker right now. I’m not going to wait till morning.' And I stayed on the phone until after four o’clock in the morning and I found damn near every Democrat I called was still up listening to returns. By four o’clock in the morning, I felt like I had gained enough support to be sure of getting elected Speaker. Now of course, there was some campaigning that went on after that, but I never forgot that I just got so enthused about the way the Democrats were winning it, I jumped right on the telephone, ran up quite a telephone bill, but at night it’s cheap, so in effect, I thought I really had it pretty well tied down" (Hodde, 1986, pp. 129-30).
Hodde was right -- he had the position tied down. Eleven days after the election, on November 13, the newly elected and re-elected Democratic representatives met in a party caucus in Olympia and chose Hodde as their leader by a vote of 47 to 17. Although Hodde would not be officially elected Speaker until the full House of Representatives convened on the first day of the legislative session -- January 10, 1949 -- that formality was a foregone conclusion once the party caucus made its choice. As Speaker, Hodde would be one of the most powerful politicians in the state, with the authority to appoint House committees and to determine what legislation would be considered.
After the party caucus Hodde traveled home by train from Olympia to Spokane and then by bus to Colville. When he arrived on November 15, 1948, his home town celebrated his new prominence by surprising him with a welcome home parade. He recalled:
"[T]here’d never been a Speaker from a little cowtown. Well, that isn’t quite true, we had one from down in Garfield County way back in the twenties ... but when I took the bus from Spokane back to Colville, you never saw a more astonished little kid than I was when the bus was met by a band and a convertible. The citizens there loaded me on this convertible with my wife and my daughter, Dorothy was playing in the high school band and she marched along front. John [their son] rode with us, and I got a parade clear through Colville, a hometown hero" (Hodde, 1986, p. 132).
The local newspaper described how Hodde, whose selection as Speaker "put Colville and Stevens County into the political limelight" was greeted by the high school band and local political leaders including Colville Mayor Porter Carter and Stevens County Commissioner Claud Naff, and then "paraded down Main street" with the band leading and "a block-long string of cars follow[ing] the procession" (Statesman-Examiner).
Hodde served two terms as Speaker of the House. Democrats retained the House majority (by a reduced margin) in the 1950 election and his party colleagues unanimously chose him to lead them again. As Speaker, Hodde was low-key but effective. One observer noted he "was generally respected for his thorough knowledge of state government as well as his parliamentary abilities" and called him "perhaps the most competent, knowledgeable and statesmanlike individual to hold that office" (Newell, pp. 450, 471).
In 1952, Hodde gave up his legislative seat to run for governor, but lost in the primary. He never returned to elected office, but remained active in politics and government for another three decades, serving as a Grange official, a political advisor, consultant, and lobbyist, and on numerous state and federal agencies, boards, and commissions.