Profile: Niles Godes

Niles Godes Senior VP of Congressional  Affairs and Housing LeadingAge
Niles Godes Senior VP of Congressional Affairs and Housing LeadingAge

Of all the adjectives that may come up when talking to Niles Godes — terms such as “wonky” and “poodle owner” — what doesn't immediately spring to mind is “skilled hunter.”

But Godes, the Senior Vice President of Congressional Affairs and Housing at
LeadingAge in Washington, D.C., grew up working on a North Dakota family farm, where he often hunted and fished.

“I still hunt when I get a chance,” he says. On the farm, he drove the tractor and harvested grain, and built a lot of fence. “I really love the upper Midwest,” he says.

But he's always been fascinated by politics and has become a fixture in the nation's capital. His parents say that he was the only 6-year-old they knew who watched the Senate Watergate hearings.

At first, “it was blocking my cartoon time,” he says with a laugh. But then, as he watched witnesses being questioned, he became fascinated. “Something about it interested me,” he recalls.

After college, Godes started working on grassroots campaigns. Once he moved to Washington, “It was like being a kid in a candy store.”

“Everyone I knew, and all of my friends — everyone — was as interested in politics and public policy as I was,” Godes says. He finished his law degree more than 15 years ago but says he never wanted to practice.

“I loved law school. Being an attorney is a good way to do policy,” he says. “I can look at a statute or regulation and understand it better.”

He's also never had an interest in running for office, though, noting, “I've always been more of a behind-the-scenes person.”

That includes using his background on behalf of LeadingAge, which has allowed the group to “sharpen and fine-tune our focus,” says LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan.

“He's had so much policy and Hill experience that he knows how to navigate the House and the Senate. He has a unique ability to identify the core of the issue.”

In his work at LeadingAge, which includes a passion for affordable housing for seniors, he says he thinks people misunderstand lobbying.

“Relationships matter. But much more than that, it's about thinking strategically and understanding how Congress works,” he says. “I am really proud of fighting for America's seniors. Every time we help one more lawmaker understand the issue, I consider that a small victory.”

Former Rep. Vin Weber (R-MN) says Godes has “one of the best strategic minds.” Godes worked at Weber's lobbying firm for nearly a decade.

“He's a really fine person who doesn't try to bend any rules,” Weber notes.

Former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), who has known Godes for close to two decades, describes him as a “persistent yet tactful advocate. Niles isn't a grandstander: He's a doer.”

In his spare time, Godes enjoys cooking, a passion that has roots in his time as a line cook at a pancake house while in high school.

“That's how I learned my love of cooking. I really love to make something completely new.”

Married to wife Jenny and the owner of standard poodles Toby and Ransom, Godes treasures his North Dakota roots. But he says, at age 49, he feels “more and more like a Washingtonian.”

“I have never become disillusioned,” he says. “And here at LeadingAge they have the most talented group of professionals that I have ever known.”