A push for inclusivity: V Fixmer-Oraiz’s journey to Johnson County Board of Supervisors candidacy
They want to push the future of Johnson County in a positive and inclusive direction by running for supervisor.
October 16, 2022
While rain trickled down onto East Washington Street and bounced off food stand tents at the Iowa City Farmers Market on Sept.17, V Fixmer-Oraiz stood near the entrance of Chauncey Swan Parking Ramp and spoke with community members about their Johnson County Board of Supervisors campaign.
All sporting rain jackets, V’s grandparents, John and Val Bowman, spoke with V’s wife, Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz, while the Fixmer-Oraiz children — Emmons, 7, and Celso, 4 — ate powdered sugar donuts from a vendor.
V is one of four Johnson County residents vying for one of two open seats on the board in the general election on Nov. 8. They are running against Jammie Bradshaw, R-Lone Tree; Jon Green, D-Lone Tree; and Phil Hemingway, R-West Liberty.
V said it is important for their children to understand the election process and be exposed to political and worldly situations, including the Russia-Ukraine War and the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol. V brings Emmons and Celso to the farmers market to speak with community members or drags a wagon up and down grassy hills while they door-knock through small towns.
Because of V’s participation in the election process, Emmons often asks to listen to the news on the way to school or the Iowa City Public Library.
“I don’t want [Emmons] to grow up railing against one side or the other,” V said. “I want him to see what it is for what it is and understand at least the breadth of it — if not the depth of it.”
After V entered the race, they said Emmons has talked more about Democrats and Republicans than ever before.
“It’s not because I’m this die-hard Democrat,” V said. “It’s the ways our society pins these things against each other. And I think our responsibility as parents is to just retain that curiosity.”
Curiosity continued during the primary elections, when V, Green, and Seth Zimmerman battled for two spots to run in the general election for the board.
Despite the friendly battle between other Democratic candidates in the June primaries — with two Republicans and two Democrats running for the open seats in the general election — V and Green now work closely together and help with each other’s campaigning.
“There’s two people that believe in a woman’s right to choose, there’s two people that believe in a livable wage, and it’s me and Jon,” V said. “We’re climate activists, we believe in racial justice, and we do the work.”
V has worked with the current board for about five-and-a-half years as Johnson County Historic Poor Farm manager. In February, a few board members approached V and mentioned they should consider running for the board.
With V’s experience working closely with the board, they said they already understand some tasks such as agenda and budget planning. V said they are excited to potentially step into a role that could have a larger impact on the community they reside in.
“I saw that there was an open seat and felt like it was really time to step outside of my comfort zone,” V said. “Having more of a policy influence and a budgetary influence I think would be just a better opportunity given the experience that I have, given who I am, too. I mean, I can’t get away from identity politics. It just informs who we are everywhere, right?”
V, who is transgender, biracial, and identifies as queer, said showing community members that all types of people live in Johnson County and deserve to be heard would be very valuable on the board.
If V is elected to the board, they would be the first biracial, transgender, and queer person in an elected county position in Iowa.
“I think that we can do a better job of inclusivity. It’s 2022,” V said. “We need to have that representation.”
V finds identity and forever partner
V first experienced same-sex attraction in high school, but the terms “gay” and “lesbian” were often used as expletives on the 30 different military bases they grew up on before turning 16. With help from a basketball coach who identified as gay while V was in high school, they realized they didn’t have to hide who they were.
“It was this whole new world, and it really made sense to me,” V said.
V said they call the time period they came out as the “best of times and the worst of times” because, despite their identity not being well-received by their parents, they finally felt like themselves.
V said family is family, and their relationship with their parents is restoring itself.
After coming out in high school, V went to college in San Francisco, where they lived for about five years before transferring to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There, they participated in political drag, where their performance troupe performed and used art in activism work and built political community.
“We were around for a decade, and we traveled all over the country and then even Europe,” V said. “We had some shows in Amsterdam and London, and we were like a Feminist Collective.”
In 2005, when V lived in California, they met Natalie through mutual friends and political organizing. The couple had a long-distance relationship while Natalie was a graduate student at UNC Chapel Hill and worked at Planned Parenthood. In 2008, V moved to North Carolina to be with Natalie and finish their undergraduate career in environmental studies when they were 27 years old and Natalie was 26 years old.
Natalie said she is grateful to be in a partnership with her best friend.
“They have this deep well of generosity, this deep well of patience, this deep appreciation for other humans trying to be human on the planet,” Natalie said. “It’s astounding, and I love that about them.”
V and Natalie have been married for 14 years, and V said their connection grows stronger every day. V said Natalie’s passion for reproductive rights, and V’s work in environmental justice creates a lot of intersectionality in their lives.
Timeline by Ryan Hansen/The Daily Iowan
“We met in that space of making art and making change and working with the community to bring about that change,” Natalie said. “Our love for one another is really grounded in this fierce commitment to social justice and to hopefully making the world a little bit better.”
Natalie has been an associate professor of communication studies and gender, women’s and sexuality studies at the University of Iowa for 10 years. Natalie said her favorite part about teaching is the collaborative process.
The collaborative process continues in the couple’s home life when co-parenting. Natalie said she admires how V always makes time for family despite how busy other parts of their life make them.
“As busy as V gets with work and this campaign, V puts it all aside,” Natalie said. “V will always make time for dinner, for play, for bath time.”
And V said the same about Natalie.
“She’s an incredible co-parent,” V said. “We’re both learning and we’re both in it together.”
For V, parenting clarified their transgender identity. V said they were placed in heteronormative spaces, including birth and parenting classes, that pushed V to consider why they wanted to transition.
“It’s like death by 1,000 cuts,” V said. “Do I want to transition and have top surgery because that’s who I am and that’s how I’ve always wanted to be? Or do I want to do that because this heteronormative structure is pushing me in that direction?”
When they were a child, V said there wasn’t a language for how they identified. V said they want to make a change in Johnson County by representing a marginalized community and pushing back on GOP state legislative proposals including bathroom bans.
“It’s wrong to make kids go through that. It’s wrong to make families go through that,” V said. “At this point, I feel comfortable being the person to stand up and say, ‘No, we’re here. And we matter.’”
V’s passion for environment, equity takes off
V studied environment and watershed planning in college. Their passion for the environment and planning led them to start Astig Planning, a planning service striving for healthy ecosystems and equity through advocacy.
After working in engineering and planning firms for a few years, V realized there were no planning firms that addressed climate change and social justice nearby, so they started one in Iowa City in February 2019.
“How do we plan for those folks to be successful in life, to have dignity and respect and care and all the things that they need?” V said.
Astig Planning started at Merge Downtown — a coworking space in Iowa City, where V’s business found numerous connections and attention, being across from Iowa City Area Development staff members. Now, the planning firm operates in the South District on Keokuk Street, near communities V hopes to help through planning.
V’s passion for helping marginalized communities continued through their position as vice president of Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition, an organization that commits itself to help create affordable and fair housing for all Johnson County communities.
V said, if elected onto the board, they will continue pushing for inclusivity through affordable housing.
“Having clean water matters, having access to public education and health care, those things matter,” V said.
Sara Barron, executive director of the Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition for five years, also cares about inclusivity in the county, which is why she stepped into the role of V’s campaign manager before their official announcement came out in February.
Infographic by Ryan Hansen/The Daily Iowan
Barron said before the candidacy announcement, V made a list of people they wanted to let know of their candidacy, and Barron was on that list. Barron asked to help out with their campaign right away.
“I think they are an absolutely fantastic leader with the skills and temperament that we desperately need in all levels of government,” Barron said.
Barron said the Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition doesn’t endorse specific candidates and works with everyone who’s running for office and holds elected office to ensure they understand the importance of affordable housing.
Barron and V met while V served on the city of Iowa City’s Housing and Community Development Commission, whose members are appointed by the City Council. Barron saw the passion V put toward the city’s social services and knew she wanted them on the coalition’s team.
When V’s term ended around April 2020, Barron asked V to join the team. Now, the two work closely campaigning and attending events such as the Johnson County Democrats Fall Barbecue.
Barron said working with V on their campaign has been nothing but joyful, and she admires V’s commitment to showing up to events, despite their already full schedule with a family and running their business.
“When V comes to talk to your group, or when V knocks on your door, they aren’t just there to talk about themselves and their campaign,” Barron said. “They’re there to hear about what’s important to you. And that ability to listen and convene people and make space for people to share what’s important to them is really powerful.”
V’s support system and motivation
All of V’s campaign volunteers are unpaid, and V is grateful they have support from community members to fuel their candidacy.
“To truly have people willing to spend their resources, their time, their energy, their voice, their networks — any of it to support me,” V said. “It just brings me to my knees.”
For the reporting periods spanning Jan. 1 through July 14, V received $18,221.24 in contributions to their campaign, according to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.
V said the help they received from their family, other Democratic candidates, volunteers, and the community has kept them afloat during the election process.
“It makes that light burn hotter,” V said. “I know that I’m not alone. And I know that this is important and that people are paying attention.”