Attorney Ragan Freitag, R-Wilmington, is leaving her position as a Will County Board member representing District 6 to become the board’s chief of staff in early March. Senior Reporter Brian Stanley recently spoke with Freitag about the change, as well as her personal history and interests.
Stanley: What does the chief of staff do?
Freitag: The chief of staff is a representative for all 26 board members. [I’ll] provide advice, council. My job is to make them look good.
Stanley: Obviously you will have to resign from your seat. Are you also leaving [law firm] Kavanagh, Grumley & Gorbold?
Freitag: Yes. I will keep my license but I won’t be practicing. I’ll be helping, all of Will County, not just District 6. I’m going to work hard, but – obviously – to go from two jobs to one job is going to be easier. I won’t miss coming home very late or spending nights with files open on my bed for all hours.
Stanley: What do you think will be the biggest challenges coming up for the entire county board?
Freitag: One of them will be to deal with how the county’s going to continue to provide health insurance and contribute towards that. There’s a rising cost right now and we want to stay within the budget, and not raise taxes. We have to stay on top of the latest legislation.
Stanley: And what skills do you bring to help them do that?
Freitag: Let’s be clear I’m not denouncing anyone’s ability, but sometimes lawyers have a hard time dealing with non-lawyers. The board members are policymakers. When they’re creating or amending a county ordinance, they have to consider how it works with state law or liability concerns. I’ll be able to focus on that.
Stanley: Any other reasons for the career change?
Freitag: I really am happy to be getting out of politics. Running [for re-election last year] was almost like a third job. It’s changed over the years and not for the better. People are a lot more negative. It gets personal when it doesn’t need to be. I’m not going to miss that. I made it through The Citadel [military school], I can get through anything, but it was hard on my family.
Stanley: Though some Democrats raised questions about receiving this appointment right after you were elected for a second term [letting Republicans appoint a replacement]?
Freitag: If I’d known [the position] was coming, I wouldn’t have run again. I wouldn’t have put my family through another campaign. Wouldn’t there already have been a replacement for me if this had been pre-ordained? Up until a few weeks ago I was setting trial dates for my clients.
Stanley: And Don Gould, R-Shorewood, will have to get new signs? [Freitag and Gould campaigned together for District 6’s two seats and shared signage with both their names.]
Freitag: Yes, he’s got to come pick all of those up out of my garage ... or find another Freitag to run with.
Stanley: Does your sister have any aspirations?
Freitag: No! I think people assume my family is super political, very conservative. I was born the day before Reagan’s inauguration, but it’s spelled differently. My parents saw it in a name book and thought it was a pretty name for a girl. I hope I’ve made them proud of it.
Stanley: Why did you pick military school and then a law career?
Freitag: I’ve always looked for a challenge. My dad, Roger, was in the military. I [respect] the discipline. There aren’t a lot of females at The Citadel. I was the first girl to graduate in three years. As for my career, my dad would say I’ve always argued, now I get paid to do it.
Stanley: The Citadel’s in South Carolina and you went to law school in Jackson, Mississippi. Does the South hold some appeal to a Wilmington girl?
Freitag: Absolutely. My boyfriend and I love going to Charleston to do nothing more than walk around the town and eat somewhere. Savannah, Georgia, is a great place to go, too. You have to read John Berendt’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” then do the tour. The book was much better than the movie. However, Pat Conroy is my [top Southern] author. I’ve read “Lords of Discipline,” which is based on his experiences at The Citadel five times. My bookmark is a picture of the two of us from the time I met him.
Stanley: What else do you like to do besides read?
Freitag: I’m really a homebody. My favorite thing is to just spend time with my family. Play a lot of board games. I’m excited I’m going to have more time to do that now.