Did you know Councilman Phil Dacey named one of his daughters after an Ayn Rand character? Or that Councilman Kai Hagen hitchhiked around Great Britain on his honeymoon? In Beyond the Ballot, the new post-election series in ‘72 Hours,’ we sit down with local legislators to learn more about their lives beyond the office. But politics aren’t off the table, either. Each wide-ranging interview covers crucial career moments, policy decisions, and the lessons they’ve learned in office. All part of really getting to know your elected officials.
You can follow Beyond the Ballot every Thursday in ‘72 Hours.’ Below are the condensed Q&As with our latest guests.
I wanted to give people the chance to get to know you a little bit, beyond politics, and I was wondering if you could talk about your family, just to start?
Hagen: Well, I grew up in Washington, D.C., but I went to college in Minnesota. Actually, St. Olaf College in the town I was born in during my parents' senior year, while they were attending St. Olaf College. And I met my wife there. We were married the summer after college, and we've been married 38 years and a few months.
Hagen: That's when you're supposed to say I don't look old enough to have been married for 38 years. But, yeah, it's a long time. We were married in Washington, D.C., actually, but then lived for eight years in Minnesota. Moved to California in 1991. Our first son was born there. So, not until we'd been married for a little more than 11 years. And we were there for another three and a half years. That's how old he was when we moved to Frederick in 1995. And his name is Tor. He just turned 27 a few days ago. Then, our second son was born here in 1995. They both went to school in Frederick and graduated from [Gov. Thomas Johnson] High School. Tor went off to college at Carleton College in Minnesota, and Leif is a senior right now at the University of Maryland in computer sciences.
And your first son’s name is Tor?
Hagen: Yes. T-O-R.
Where does that come from?
Hagen: Well, my name is Kai, which of course is also Korean and Hawaiian and Chinese, but it is ultimately — the derivation is Norwegian. Half my family tree is Scandinavian. Norwegian, from Minnesota. And half my family tree is German, from New York. But the big side of my family is the Norwegian, Scandinavian side, and my grandparents who lived closer to us were on that side of it and it was always a big influence. Then I went to a college that was midwestern, Lutheran, heavily Scandinavian, and married a woman who was 100 percent Norwegian ancestry and whose name is Kirsten. So, when you have Kai and Kirsten and you're thinking about names, we struggled — we couldn't agree about anything. We finally started poring through the alumni directory of our college, which had a lot of Scandinavian names. And Tor was one of them.
So, with Kai and Kirsten and Tor, when another one comes along, you're not going to break the mold and start naming your kid something that's not an unusual Scandinavian short name. So, Leif was the name we chose. L-E-I-F. People say 'Leaf,' but it's 'Leif.'
Have you guys actually gotten the chance to visit the region, to go to Scandinavia?
Hagen: My wife has been there. She and I traveled a lot when we were younger, before we had kids. Overall, we've been to 49 states and 15 or 16 countries. And we took some pretty long trips. Two and a half months in South America, things like that. But, never went to Norway. She went when she was younger, and most of my family members have gone, and I plan to go. But when we were younger and traveling, we were also poor and traveling. So, we would travel a long time, but we would stay in hostels and camp out and hitchhike, things like that. We hitchhiked around Great Britain and Ireland for six weeks for our honeymoon, for example. When you're traveling cheaply, some countries are better than others. And Norway is not cheap. So, ironically, even though I've been in quite a number of European countries — and Asia and South America — I have not been to either Germany or Norway.
Do you have a favorite place that you've visited?
Hagen: We live on an amazing planet, and there's a lot of incredible places. Our most recent overseas trip was to Italy, and it made me wonder how I hadn't been there earlier. We spent three weeks there a couple years ago, and it was wonderful. The history, the beauty, the people, the culture — it’s a remarkable experience. But I tend to be more drawn to the places that are destinations because of their natural beauty. Alaska, Costa Rica, were two of my favorite places. The Galapagos Islands was an amazing, unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. Those tend to be the ones that I really enjoy the most. But there's a lot of great cities, amazing history, and we try to capture that, as well.
Would you describe yourself as a cat person or a dog person?
Hagen: I grew up with both and we have both. We have a rescue dog and we have two cats.
What are their names?
Hagen: The dog is named Allie. She's part pit bull, part something else. A rescue. We don't know, exactly. Forty-five pound sweetheart. And two cats. Kitty — not the most creative name, I know. But, just ended up that way. And Gwen, which is short for Guinevere, which was the name that was given to her by the place where she was a rescue. And we could have changed it, but we didn't.
And are you a pie person, or a cake person?
Hagen: Well, that depends on the pie or the cake. But if I had to pick one, I would say pie. I wasn't expecting any questions like that. My wife makes really good pies.
Oh, really? Do you have a favorite pie?
Hagen: Um — no, not really. I mean, strawberry rhubarb is way up there.
I was also wondering, if you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would you pick?
Hagen: Living or dead? Oh my gosh. I'm never even good — like, when people post on Facebook, list your 10 favorite albums or your favorite book, I can never do that. Because it's so hard for me to break things down into favorites. I never think of things that way. Even colors. So, that's a really hard question. I think I would love to talk to Charles Darwin. You know, having been to the Galapagos, having read 'Origin of Species.' I think just looking at a time when a person could have that kind of an impact through things they could sort of figure out on their own, through observation — I think that would be really, really interesting. If I had to pick a political figure, I think Abraham Lincoln. The complexity of his life, the drama, and the complexity of the times. The uniqueness of his historical personality and impact. I think that would be particularly fascinating. And I would like to really meet Rachel Carson. I quote her all the time. She was scientist — the author of 'Silent Spring.' But she was more than a scientist and more than an author. She really had a sense of wonder about nature, about the environment, that had a profound effect on me when I was reading a lot of those sorts of things in my early 20s. I would love to take a walk in the woods with her.
I could name all sorts of other people, and those aren't really a top three. I just tried to pick three quickly under pressure.
Okay, well, you don't like favorite questions, but then, is there a book that has influenced you the most?
Hagen: Oh, gosh. Let me answer a different way. In 1982, my New Year's resolution was to read 100 books about nature and the environment, from environmental politics to nature to natural sciences. And, of course, in those days, we didn't have the internet. You'd go to a book store and they'd have small sections with this sort of thing. And I spent a lot of time at the beginning trying to pick the right things to read. Wendell Berry, Rachel Carson. Edward Abbey, Charles Darwin. And contemporary things about water pollution, things like David Zwick and Ralph Nader and others. And I got to 70-some odd books in September, then I started working full-time for an environmental organization. And I never did get to 100. I know that's the opposite of answering your question, but those are the early books that I carefully chose and read through because I found it to be a worthwhile endeavor. They're still books I return to from time to time.
What about movies?
Hagen: Oh, geez. See, you're really making this hard for me.
Do you have desert island movies? If you could only watch three movies on a desert island.
Hagen: Oh, gosh. I don't know if I could do that. I mean, I really probably can't do that. I do like films, but I'm not the sort of person who watches a favorite movie over and over again. There are probably a handful of movies I've seen a few times because I've rewatched them with other people or it's been 10 or 20 years. Things like 'This is Spinal Tap' or whatever. But I really can't say that there's a favorite movie. I do like attending movies. My wife and I had 12 years of being married and living in the city before we had kids. And we used to go to a lot of films. Offbeat films. One of the things that has taken a while to get used to, living in Frederick, is that there isn't any place like that. If you want to go to a local movie, that means the popular hits at the local movieplex. And we go to plenty of those. I watch 'The Avengers' movies like everybody else. 'Lord of the Rings' or 'Star Wars' or whatever. But, we've taken to going to films at the Majestic in Gettysburg, which change every week.
Okay. And what about your alcoholic drink of choice?
Hagen: A good craft beer or a good red wine. It's funny. During the eight years we lived in California, I said, 'We're moving to California but I do not want to develop a cultivated taste for expensive wines.'
You didn't want to become a wine guy?
Hagen: I didn't want to become snobby about it, or feel like I had to have an expensive bottle of wine. And in the end, what I learned is that you can get a lot of perfectly good wine without spending very much money. But I do like a good Cabernet. California, Argentina, Spain, Italy — well, it's not a Cabernet if it's Italy. But you know what I mean. And that probably is my favorite drink of choice. But sometimes a good, cold beer is the best thing.
Do you have a favorite brewery in Frederick?
Hagen: You're going to ask me to pick between local breweries?
Hagen: I do like a number of the Flying Dog beers. And I found that they do versions of some beers that I might not even care for other times. Like their blood orange ale, for example, which I really like when they do it. I guess that would be an answer. I'm not trying to pick favorites.
Well, I'm also going to ask if you have a favorite restaurant in Frederick.
Hagen: There are a lot of great restaurants in Frederick. A recent discovery that I really like and have been to a number of times — and I wish it was downtown, but it's out by Westview — is Mayta's. It's a Peruvian place. It's small, but it's wonderful. The service is incredible. The food is fantastic. The preparation is beautiful. They're very friendly and I want people to go there so it stays in business, even though it's a little off the beaten path. But there's so many restaurants downtown. I mean, Sumittra and others, that are just great. The one we've gone to the most, because it's with a large family group and because both our boys really liked it, was Cacique.
I was also going to ask if you have three unfulfilled items on your bucket list that you really want to fulfill?
Hagen: Well, I would say one of them, for sure, would be related to traveling. I mean, there's a lot of places I would like to go. I'm 60 now, and I realized I'm not going to get to go to all of them. And mixing that with some of my favorite places that I would like to go back to is hard. But Australia, Hawaii — that's the only state I haven't been in. That's one thing on my bucket list. Being physically able to get around and enjoy myself to a ripe old age and get in a fair amount of traveling later.
Other things on my bucket list — I mean, my wife would kill me if I ever did it, but I always wanted to parachute. And I have not done it. I have friends that have, and I would like to do that. I know George H.W. Bush did it when he was in his 70s, and maybe in his memory, I could reconsider. But, I haven't ever done that, and it gets less and less likely as I get older. And an odd one, I guess, is — I don't know if I'll ever do it, and it's also going to be one of those things that gets less and less likely and harder and harder as I get older — but, I always thought it would be really cool to walk the whole Appalachian Trail. Maybe over a two-year period. I think that would be a really wonderful experience.