Country Democrat: Jon Green’s path to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors
Green, who is seeking re-election in November after winning a special election last year in June for his Johnson County Board of Supervisor seat, opens up about his personal experiences that shaped his progressive political beliefs.
October 9, 2022
“A long way from Lone Tree,” a man calls out from a motorcycle while driving past Johnson County Supervisor Jon Green, who sports his usual Levi denim jeans, boots, and a cowboy hat while marching with other Iowa Democrats at Solon’s annual Beef Days parade in mid-July.
Green’s 1 year-old Belgian Shepherd Rosco gathered the attention of curious kids who ran up to pet him. This gave Green an opportunity to meet their parents — a move Green’s campaign manager Tom Carsner said will generate at least 100 votes for the 39-year-old progressive cowboy in the Nov. 8 election.
The path that led him to Solon Beef Days was long and winding. But one thing is curious about Green: This dyed-in-the-wool Democrat comes from what many would think was a firm conservative background. Green was born in Wyoming, which has historically voted Republican in all but eight presidential elections since the state’s first in 1892.
Fast forward to 1987, when 4-year-old Green and his family left the Cowboy State and moved to Nichols, Iowa –– a rural town southeast of Iowa City that recorded a population of 366 in the 1990 U.S. Census. Yet Green remained true to his Democratic leanings throughout his youth.
Right before the move that sent the Greens from Wyoming to Nichols to live closer to his paternal grandparents, Green’s father was hospitalized.
“We’re still not sure to this day, but the best we’ve got is it was probably a brown recluse spider that bit [my father],” Green said. “That sent him to the hospital, and for years [my parents] were paying off that medical debt.”
Green’s father made a full recovery, but the incident pushed Green on a progressive path. It inspired him to become a champion for national medicine and health care, a value shared by of his political hero, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Green’s progressive tendencies might not align with his current residency – a quiet home by Lone Tree, Iowa, equipped with a TV with a rabbit ear antenna, a worn down 1971 C/10 Chevrolet in front of a detached garage, chickens roaming the grass, and quiet trails that approach the Iowa River – Green has been looking for other rural voters to put barn signs up to appeal to more rural parts of the county.
Map by Jami Martin-Trainor/The Daily Iowan
“I've been working with a guy in the northeastern portion of the county, trying to find locations to put up barn signs,” Green said. “Everybody he's talking to says, ‘I like John. I'm gonna vote for him and whatnot, but I'm scared of pissing off my neighbors. I don't dare put up any sort of Democratic Party signage.’”
Wyoming presents Green’s route to progressive politics
After receiving a bachelor’s in mass communications and working at the student newspaper for Morningside University in Sioux City, Green returned to his home state of Wyoming in 2008 to pursue a career as a journalist in the small town of Thermopolis.
It was in Thermopolis where the editor of the paper introduced Green to the local community and where Green met Charles Curley — a voice for the local Republican Party.
“[Curley] was kind of viewed as a crank, was way out of the mainstream — a bit of a nut job,” Green said. “And yeah, Curley said, ‘Welcome to Wyoming, where we hunt Democrats with dogs for sport.’”
In the same job, Green met Wyoming’s most recent Democratic governor, Dave Freudenthal. Freudenthal had been touring the state’s first whisky distillery in Kirby, Wyoming, about 10 miles north of Green’s paper, while Green worked on a story about the distillery. During the visit, Green spoke with Freudenthal’s interim press secretary and discovered he could apply for the same position. Green did just that and got the job.
Although the letter attached to Freudenthal’s name was a D on the ballot, Green said he feels Freudenthal was barely left of center.
“It was frustrating when he was doing stuff that was too conservative,” Green said.
Green, however, feels his experience as press secretary gave him the right learning opportunities for future political endeavors.
“Sometimes you have to figure out what you’re not good at to figure out what you should be doing,” Green said about the job.
Green’s history of politics in Johnson County
Green’s experience with Johnson County politics goes back further than his most recent success in a 2021 special election for county supervisor. From 2018-19, Green served a two-year term as mayor of Lone Tree — the same place he said he visited as kid with a carload of empty gallon milk jugs to take water out of city parks because his family home in Nichols lacked a functioning well.
When he was mayor of Lone Tree, Green made $1,000 per year. This meant Green continued working as an IT infrastructure analyst to pay bills.
“At the end of the term, I was both exhausted and frustrated because I felt like the job deserved more time than I was able to give to it,” Green said.
His positions as mayor and supervisor required him to stay close to the community, Green said.
“You can see the value of your work every day. And it’s also Johnson County, which is a hell of a lot larger than Lone Tree is, but it’s still small enough that you actually get to elbow with your constituents all the time,” Green said.
Although Green sits as the incumbent in the upcoming election, he has only served on the board of supervisors since June 2021 when he won a special election after Janelle Rettig left office. Supervisors serve four-year terms.
Timeline by Jami Martin-Trainor/The Daily Iowan
Green meets his partner
In 2016, Green spent time with the Sanders presidential campaign, where he met his eventual partner, Eleanore Taft. Two years later, the two worked together to remove a gender-biased policy in the Iowa Democratic Party’s delegate selection process that forced individuals seeking to become a delegate to choose a gender on paper. The policy created situations where a political candidate might falsely identify themself to run for office in the state.
However, the relationship really began to take off in 2017 when the two organized a benefit for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program in Lone Tree. There, Green asked Taft to go out for a drink. But it would take yet another year for the two to become an item — a date at the Riverside Casino to see Trombone Shorty perform was the spark the couple needed to make things official.
Taft, originally from Iowa City, remembers being impressed the first time she saw Green and heard him speak in 2016. The two attended the same state central committee convention for the Iowa Democratic Party.
“There were so many amazing people giving speeches, and he just really impressed me with his … few words, but the right words,” Taft said. “It seemed like he was able to kind of cut to the heart of things and demonstrated the clear moral compass that I’ve continued to know and love.”
In their now daily routine outside of politics, Green and Taft wake up early and take care of their recently purchased Lone Tree residence, which the couple moved into last November.
On a typical day, Taft might run a labor-intensive gardening shift to ensure the garden grows full of fresh food while Green might care for their chickens and their pair of ducks. The ducks spend the majority of their time with each other.
Everything in the couple’s garden gets put to good use. The couple composts waste, which in turn helps more vegetables grow. Taft, a former chef in New Orleans, turns the goods into special dishes like a carefully crafted lamb stew or a delicately whisked egg frittata on rare occasions when the couple gets a chance to sit down for dinner.
Green attempts to help with Taft’s cooking, but jokes he has no idea how to make sure the lamb chops are cooked properly. Taft insists when a lamb chop is done right, the meat falls right off the bone. Green said he has more skill with the outdoor grill on the deck, anyway.
“Something that makes our relationship really strong is the fact that we are so different and we bring such different things to the table,” Taft said. “Like we have a lot of shared values, but we also have very different skill sets.”
Taft and Green provide each other with the support needed to perform the other’s job. When Taft travels for work, Green has no problem stepping into Taft’s roles while getting to spend extra time with their dogs Rosco — who loves jumping into the Iowa River and going for swims — and Snoopy — a veteran hound at sniffing out invading moles.
Green’s re-election run
In November, two seats are open on the board. Four competitors —Republicans Jammie Bradshaw and Phil Hemmingway and fellow Democrat V Fixmer-Oraiz — are vying alongside Green for a spot.
According to Green’s campaign website, Green wants to make certain that the $29 million Johnson County received in stimulus funding through the federal American Rescue Plan Act gets distributed in a prioritized manner. Along with utilizing ARPA money, Green is pushing for more affordable housing, transportation, childcare, and better nutrition.
The election, if successful for Green, will start his first full term on the board.
In addition to his own run, Green has been supportive of V Fixmer-Oraiz, and worked alongside them, with two seats being open. Green wants V Fixmer-Oraiz to win a seat with him.
“[Green] has always done everything he could to help someone in trouble in my experience, even if it’s not to his personal benefit,” Taft said.
Infographic by Jami Martin-Trainor/The Daily Iowan
So far in 2022, the Green campaign has raised $6,325, according to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, from May 3 to July 1.
“I feel like I’ve had a pretty successful 15-16 months in office, and I hope that the voters agree,” Green said.
Green said he is pursuing plans for the county to use its bonding authority to borrow money to create more affordable housing.
“The nature of the beast is a lot of this stuff takes time,” Green said. “It was a huge effort to get direct assistance done. That took longer than I would have liked, but it still was breathtakingly fast considering the way most of these things frequently go. Four years is an opportunity to get even more good stuff done.”
Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series profiling candidates for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Read coverage of Jammie Bradshaw’s life leading up to her 2022 campaign, released alongside this piece. Part two of this series releases on Oct. 17 in print and online.