"I need to run. It's a culmination of everything I've done professionally."
- Melissa Freitag (Running to replace retiring Eric Turkington for the State Representative for the Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket.)
Melissa Freitag grew up hanging out in Town Hall. Her father, a long-time Warrant Committee (known here as the Finance Committee) member and local government activist in her hometown of Medfield, cultivated her interest at a young age. While her love of politics and idealistic leanings originally led her to dream of life on the world stage in the diplomatic corps, she has settled contently in the Falmouth community, married to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Engineer Lee Freitag and teaching eager young adults at Cape Cod Community College on the theories behind world political systems.
She now hopes to put those theories into practice as a candidate for State Representative for the Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket legislative seat now held but soon to be vacated by veteran legislator Eric Turkington.
Success in this crowded race is a tough task for a seasoned veteran local pol, never mind a farily new and untested political commodity like Freitag. Much like many of the dynastic political systems she lectures about in her classes, though, Freitag's inner energy and staying power appear unfailing. In the couple of hours we spent together, she spoke with a clear vision of and firm grasp on the issues. What she may lack in hardened political acumen (that may not be a negative), she more than makes up for in her deep sense of commitment to her community and good government.
"Fiscally conservative and socially progressive." Self-labeled as "fiscally conservative and socially progressive," Freitag, when queried, offered that fiscal conservatism can be reduced to the simplest of mottos. "You don't spend more than your income," she pronounced, grinning wryly as if she were waiting for a response from the unabashedly fiscally conservative interviewer. When challenged on the triteness of this somewhat hollow response, Freitag then offered insight into her fiscal plans and detailed the issues important to her candidacy.
As an educator who spent time teaching in Cape Cod public schools before landing a spot on the faculty at 4C's, Freitag's main criticism seems not to be how much the Commonwealth spends, but where the money is spent, and how the spending is decided. She offered that Massachusetts state colleges and universities are funded at 1991 levels as an example of misplaced financial priorities. A main frustration for Freitag is also the budget process itself. Freitag spoke at length about opening up the budget process, long cloaked in secrecy and laden with meetings with little or no public input. Freitag pledged to work hard to press House leadership to insert some measure of transparency into the budget process. When asked how she would be an effective representative for her district from a broom closet in the basement of the State House after challenging the leadership on the budget, she noted with witty realism that freshmen legislators are in the basement anyway.
She wants to join current legislative efforts to curb the affordable housing law known as "40B," which allows developers to waive local zoning laws, including density, in exchange for offering a percentage of affordable units. Freitag pledged to work with the Islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard to chip away at the isolation that can plague local residents. "They need more contact with the world," she opined, noting that she has travelled weekly to at least one island since announcing her candidacy and has spoken with area residents regularly. She also sees regionalization as an important issue to explore. She appeared to hesitate and stumble a bit when asked about the balancing act that comes from representing both islands and the main port that serves them, but made it clear that her diplomatic skills learned gazing across the iron curtain in Europe during the Cold War would come in handy. "I can bring people together to work out differnences," offered Freitag.
She wants to join current legislative efforts to curb the affordable housing law known as "40B," which allows developers to waive local zoning laws, including density, in exchange for offering a percentage of affordable units. Units that are built should be encouraged to be greener, said the academic/analyst who moonlights at a local architectural firm conducting green building research.
When asked how she will spread her message of more green (dollars) for public education and more green (the environment) for us all over the most expansive district in the state, Freitag replied that she has already tapped into a network of locals who are willing to show this veteran Cape Codder but Falmouth newcomer around the local political scene. Counting Selectman Ahmed Mustafa among her supporters, Freitag plans on using the "meet and greet" philosophy of personal contact and small gatherings with voters to convince them she should be hired in November.
When asked the basic question of why voters should choose her in this crowded race, Freitag confidently declared that as the only professional on the ballot, she has devoted her life to civic duty and has a firm grasp on government and history - and on teaching what she's learned - and as a result is best suited to learn with her colleagues and constituents and teach them about the priorities of the district. While this early campaign shot across the bow may ruffle her opponents, Freitag's confident smile remained. She seems comfortable steering the ship.