Jason’s roots run deep in Oklahoma. He was born and raised in Tahlequah. He has lived his entire life in Cherokee County, as have multiple generations of his family. The well on his great-grandparents’ Woodall area farm didn’t run dry during the Great Depression like the wells of many of their neighbors. Further back still, on a different branch of his family tree, the first of Jason’s relatives arrived in Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears.
Jason kept his family’s tradition and stayed in the Tahlequah area to raise his two daughters, Cara and Gemma. Jason’s wife, Jennifer, a native of Benton, Arkansas, spent her high school years in Broken Arrow, OK, and came to Tahlequah to attend Northeastern State University in 1997. While there, she met Jason through a sorority sister named Cindy…who also happened to be Jason’s actual sister. Before Jennifer and Jason were married in late 2001, she too had already decided that Tahlequah was home and was where she wanted to raise a family.
After graduating from Tahlequah High School Jason decided to remain close to home and became a third-generation graduate of Northeastern State University. Northeastern State produces more American Indian graduates than any other public university in the United States. As citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Jason was a prime example of that statistic, earning both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from that institution where he now enjoys a career as an instructor of Political Science.
Jason’s parents were educators. His mother, Debbie, earned her Master’s degree while still pregnant with him. A few years later, she would take Jason with her while she travelled between rural schools to serve as their counselor because the school districts couldn’t afford to hire one on their own. That experience instilled in Jason, at a very early age, the importance of education, and he still believes that successful lives and societies start at the schoolhouse door.
Before he entered education as a profession, Jason worked in technology. Over the course of his IT career, he worked for Tahlequah Public Schools and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. But he got his start at the City of Tahlequah eighteen years ago as its first Information Technology Manager. He spent five years working hard to help modernize his hometown’s local government. He realized that he could have a greater positive impact on his community by running for the city council and solving the problems he’d seen while working as an employee.
Though he’d volunteered on several campaigns for candidates for the Oklahoma legislature and the United States Senate, Jason had never run for office before he became one of four candidates in his first race for a seat on the city council. Among the other candidates was the incumbent and as well as someone who previously held the seat Jason was seeking. Being only 29-years-old at the time, the odds were believed to be against Jason winning that 2005 city council race.
However, Jason proved to be a tireless and passionate candidate and won the election. He was reelected to a second term in 2009 and would spend a total of 6 years on the Tahlequah city council. He successfully advocated for pay increases for city employees and continued investment in Tahlequah’s infrastructure and public safety efforts. He fought to make the City of Tahlequah a more efficient organization; one that would more effectively serve the people of a growing community.
In 2010, Tahlequah’s mayor announced his decision to not seek reelection. Still having ideas for improving his hometown, and believing they might be more easily accomplished as mayor, Jason filed to run for that office. In May of 2011, Jason was sworn in as Tahlequah’s mayor; its youngest in over fifty years.
As mayor, Jason increased his efforts to streamline the city’s operations, take politics out of city management, and reform its policies and procedures. He proposed, and successfully advocated for, more firefighters, police officers, and a full time Emergency Management Director to work in a recently completed additional fire station and a new $1.3 million police headquarters. He succeeded in procuring funding for millions of dollars that have been dedicated to quality-of-life and transportation, law enforcement, and infrastructure projects.
These successes helped propel Jason to second term as Tahlequah’s mayor in February of 2015. Despite having two opponents, no runoff election was necessary as Jason was reelected by a 2-to-1 margin. Since that victory, Jason has his hard work for the people of Tahlequah to create a safe, prosperous community and a transparent, open local government. As mayor, he serves as vice-chairman on the board of trustees for the Northeast Oklahoma Public Facilities Authority, the largest public natural gas distributor in Oklahoma. He represents Tahlequah as member of the board of directors for the Northeast Oklahoma Regional Alliance and the Oklahoma Municipal League. As part of his service with the Municipal League, he was also recently selected to serve on the Oklahoma Mayors Council and as the Speaker Pro Tempore of the Congress of Mayors.
Jason and Jennifer have also served on many boards and committees for non-profit organizations and Tahlequah’s First Baptist Church, where they are members. He spent many years as a coach, head referee, and president of the Indian Nations Soccer Club (now Tahlequah Youth Soccer Club) and was a member of Leadership Tahlequah Class XV. He has also served on various committees for Northeastern State University, Tahlequah Public Schools, and other educational institutions. When needed, he has even helped unload the delivery trucks at the food pantry his grandmother, Rebecca, operates in Tahlequah. Jennifer once served on the board of the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity and assisted in the construction of several homes with that organization. After losing her sister in a fatal alcohol-related accident in 2002, she has also engaged in efforts to combat drunk driving by speaking to groups of DUI offenders about her family’s experience.