As he approaches the end of his first term in office, Joseph D. Ragan, Fairfax County's Republican chairman, finds himself torn between responsibility to his family and his love of politics.
Ragan has been county Republican chairman for a year and a half. As he enters the last stretch of his non-paying two-year term, and must decide whether to run again, he says he feels the burden of maintaining a tight Republian organization bearing down on the responsibilities of running a coffee sales business and supporting a family.
Ragan, 37, a native of Northern Virginia and a Springfield resident, heads Fairfax County's Republican committee of 330 members who are gearing up for the Nov. 8 statewide elections. His job as chairman meands directing an organization that puts candidates before the voters, and more importantly, seeks to draw Republican voters to the polls.
"This job is extremely time consuming," says Ragan. "So much so that tough decisions are coming up for me. I have to weigh this work against expanding my business to prepare for the inevitable."
Ragan was referring to the fact that three of his four children are approaching college age and will need financial help.He said such financial responsibilities have prevented him from marking out a political future for himself.
To illustrate how he divides his lives as private businessman and political volunteer, he pulled out a well-filled appointment book: "Today I have to make six stops for party business and two stops for my own business. And that's nothing unusual."
Ragan owns Golden R Services, a Vienna-based business that places and services automatic coffee makers in offices and instituations. The business used to include vending machines, which Ragan dropped in 1974 because "they were too negative."
"The only time you would hear from anybody was when they lost their change in a machine and were mad at you," Ragan said. "People like coffee; it's a good product.
"Same thing goes for politics," he continued, sliding his hand overrvrve his balding temples. "If you've got a good product - good candidates - then you can be successful with some work. Without the product, you just work yourself to death."
Republican politics began for Ragan in 1964 when he worked at the polls in the presidential campaign of Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) but Jack Herrity "is the one who got me into active politics," Ragan recalled. That was in 1970, when the two met through the Knights of Columbus at St. Bernadette's Catholic Church.
In 1972, Ragan became a member of the Fairfax Republican Committee, and, in 1973, he became chairman of precinct operations for the party. That same year, Ragan managed the campaign of Del. Robert E. Harris, who, Ragan says with obvious pride, was the only Republican elected to the General Assembly that year. Harris is now running for his third term.
Ragan managed the campaign of his political patron, Herrity, in his race for the chairmanship of the Fairfax County Board in 1975. He was elected chairman of tte Fairfax committee in April, 1976, and elected to the state central committee in January.
Ragan describes himself as a Republican "who walks down the midde of the road," but many other county Republicans, both supporters and detractors, see him as a conservative.
"I wouldn't call myself a conservative, but I believe in the Republican philosophy -limited government ii nvolvement and fiscal conservatism," Ragan said.
Some Fairfax Republicans say Ragan has attracted "conservative elements" to the party, widening the gap between moderates and conservatives in the party.
James Dillard, Republican incumbant who was defeated in the June primary while seeking to keep his seat in the House of Delegates, says "moderates in the party feel isolated under Ragan. It seems he's more interested in encouraging conservative candidates to run rather than getting candidates who can win."
Ragan denies that any more factionalism has developed in the party under him than under previous chairmen: "It's just that the peoople who held the reins in the party are 'out' now", Ragan said, referring to more liberal members of the party. "A lot of my predecessors never even had to run against anybody to becomee chairmen. Party battles made for some animosity, but they're also helpful because then the part chooses the strongest leaders. Infighting doesn't mean factionalism."
Ragan displays an easy confidence in himself as a manager and organizer, elements he sees as essential in leading Fairfax Republicans.
"Politics takes too much veneer, which I don't have," Ragan said. "I'm more effectiv in getting Republicans elected to office than I would be as a legislator myself."
Ragan's talents as a manager are well-recognized by Fairfax Republians. His first order of business was to erase the party's debt of about $5,500.
Through fundraisers, Ragan pulled together about $6,000 for the party campaign this year. All but $2,000 of that has gone to providing Fairfax Republican candidates with computer printouts of the county's registered voters and publishing joint brochures describing all of Fairfax County's 10 Republican candidates in the 18th and 19th legislative districts.
"Candidates used to pay for those services themselves before Joe came around," said Frances Shields, secretary of the county committee. "Never have headquarters (at 4321 Markham St., Annandale) run so smoothly or offered so much."
Ragan also has strengthened precinct operations in the county, other claim. In the last six months, Ragan organized meetings in 30 different county precincts at which well-known Republicans have spoken, including former Gov. Linwood Holton, and members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
"Precinct operations are critical in a place like Fairfax County, and Joe knows that," said Patsy Drain, chairman for precinct operations. "In nothern Virginia, resulting in less media interest in local affairs, including Virginia political races. So your door-to-door, neighbor-to-neighbor approach is essential to get the word out. Joe makes the most of that."
"What I care about is getting more Republicans in the General Assembly, and I like the organizational side of getting that done," Ragan said. "With the Democratic majority in the General Assembly now, it can hardly even be called a two-party system."