Gordon MacDonald '83 confirmed as NH attorney general

by Alex Fredman | 4/7/17 2:20am

Since graduating from Dartmouth in 1983, Gordon MacDonald ’83 has had his share of experience in law and politics. Those opportunities, he said, are due in no small part to the connections he built as a member of the Dartmouth community.

Raised in Hanover, MacDonald likely seemed like any other student at the College while he was an undergraduate — he swam, coached the local swim team, majored in government and belonged to Phi Delta Alpha fraternity.

His senior year, a friend told him about a position opening on the staff of then U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey from New Hampshire. Taking that job set him on a career path which will ultimately lead him to the state capital in Concord on April 13, where he will be sworn in as New Hampshire’s 30th attorney general.

MacDonald, a Manchester-based attorney at the law firm Nixon Peabody LLP since 2002, was unanimously confirmed for the position by the five-member state Executive Council on Wednesday. Nominated by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, MacDonald, a Republican, will replace current attorney general Joseph Foster, a Democrat. The governor’s office announced the nomination on March 21.

New Hampshire is one of only five states in which the attorney general is nominated by the governor. In most states, attorneys general are directly elected by popular vote. Like most states, however, the New Hampshire attorney general serve four-year terms. This means MacDonald’s tenure will outlast Sununu’s current term, which lasts until 2019.

When he takes office, MacDonald will not be the only current attorney general to have graduated from Dartmouth. He joins Josh Stein ’88 from North Carolina and George Jepsen ’76 from Connecticut, both Democrats.

“[MacDonald] joins a long list of Dartmouth alumni who have chosen to dedicate their time and talents to public service,” vice president for alumni relations Martha Johnson Beattie ’76 wrote in an email statement. “It is inspiring to see countless leaders across the country and at all levels of government using the leadership skills they developed at Dartmouth to work for the greater good of our country.”

MacDonald said Dartmouth’s alumni network and reputation opens many doors for its graduates.

“Graduates at Dartmouth have extraordinary opportunities,” MacDonald said. “And I would just encourage any young person to explore those. One may not go completely down the path of an open door, but at least explore it.”

As attorney general, MacDonald will lead the New Hampshire Department of Justice, making him the top law enforcement official and prosecutor in the state.

While working as a partner for Nixon Peabody, however, MacDonald has often represented clients in disputes with the state.

In 2012, he represented 10 large New Hampshire hospitals, including Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, who accused the state of violating the Medicaid Act by reducing reimbursement rates. The case resulted in a preliminary injunction against the state Commissioner of Health and Human Services.

In 2014, he helped a group of New Hampshire hospitals settle Medicaid reimbursement disputes with the state.

MacDonald has also represented the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, which manufactures the opioid painkiller OxyContin. That company was investigated by the state in 2015 when concerns were raised that it was dishonestly marketing opioids, according to the Concord Monitor. That investigation has since been put on hold by the state Supreme Court.

In a recent public hearing, MacDonald promised to address New Hampshire’s opioid crisis with his “full focus” and to recuse himself when conflicts of interest arise due to his prior work in private practice, according to the Associated Press. He said he hopes to gives particular focus to the opioid epidemic ravaging the state.

“My immediate priority is to give my full focus to the opioid public health crisis facing New Hampshire and really bringing a fresh set of eyes and a fresh set of ears to that problem,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald added that the state’s drug prosecution unit and drug task force both fall under the attorney general’s preview. He said he plans to work with local county officials and federal authorities in addressing the crisis.

This will not be the first time MacDonald has worked in a public role. He is currently chair of the New Hampshire Board of Bar Examiners and is on the board of trustees for the National Conference of Bar Examiners. MacDonald has also served on the U.S. District Court Federal Court Advisory Committee and Local Rules Subcommittee.

MacDonald has also been a prominent figure in New Hampshire Republican politics throughout his career. After working as Sen. Humphrey’s chief of staff and legislative director, MacDonald once served as legal counsel for the New Hampshire Republican state committee. Last year, MacDonald was a campaign co-chairman and delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention for Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, according to WMUR News.

Since his nomination, MacDonald has received widespread praise from New Hampshire public officials. The governor’s official press release announcing the nomination cited plaudits from former state Supreme Court Justice Chuck Douglas, a Republican, and former state Chief Justice John Broderick, a Democrat.

The state Executive Council that unanimously confirmed Macdonald includes two Democrats out of its five members.

MacDonald’s nomination comes at a time when Republicans have been making significant gains in state attorney general offices, which have traditionally been dominated by Democrats. MacDonald will be one of 29 Republican state and territorial attorneys general, the most in U.S. history. In 2000, there were only 12 Republican attorneys general in the country, according to Reuters.

With MacDonald in office, New Hampshire becomes the only state in New England with a Republican attorney general, though four out of the six states currently have Republican governors.

But MacDonald said that partisanship does not have a place in the job he is about to start.

“This is not a political office,” MacDonald said. “This is an office where I’m representing the interests of the state of New Hampshire. I’ve always tried to conduct my practice with just a degree of civility and respect for the other side and professionalism, which are hallmarks of the small New Hampshire bar.”