Editor’s note: this interview took place via Zoom on Friday, October 29th, 2021, and has been edited for clarity.
Garrit: First off, can you introduce yourself?
Travis: Sure. I’m Travis Ransom. I’m the mayor of Atlanta, Texas. I’m currently a candidate for Cass County Judge. I’ve lived in Atlanta my whole life. My wife is a librarian, and we have three kiddos — one is in grad school at UT Arlington, one is in the eighth grade and runs cross country, and then a nine-year-old who is a heck of a soccer player. I go to First Baptist Church here in Atlanta, Texas, and grew up there. I’ve been 24 years in the Army Reserve mobilized and deployed multiple times. In July of this year, I recently returned from Afghanistan and got to lead kind of the last expeditionary Military Intelligence Battalion as we close out America’s longest war. I’m a Command Sergeant Major in the Army Reserve. So, I have three careers — I’m an insurance agent, a Command Sergeant Major in the Army Reserve, and the mayor of Atlanta.
Garrit: As you just said, you’re a Command Sergeant Major in the US Army, and you recently served some time in Afghanistan. Can you speak more about your service in the US military and your time in Afghanistan?
Travis: Sure. So you know, I encourage folks to join the military. I’m a big advocate for the Army, specifically, because that’s been my career path. I joined out of high school, and as a kid growing up in northeast Texas with kind of a fairly limited view of the world, it’s opened my eyes to a lot of things and allowed me to see and do things I would have never had the opportunity to do otherwise. I’ve traveled around the world multiple times. I’ve been all over the world, spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe, some time in Thailand, and then most recently in Afghanistan. It’s just an excellent opportunity to serve your country and to serve a cause that’s greater than yourself. I am an Eagle Scout and grew up in the scouting program; and you develop a sense of community and a sense of pride in your country, and you believe in American exceptionalism, and you want to defend and protect that. My time in the military is limited. I’ve got a little time that I can do this, and then I’ll get out. The same is true with really any job. And so this last deployment was interesting because there’s no actual doctrine on what’s called a retrograde operation — meaning in shrinking their footprint. We study all the time about, okay, we’re going into this beach, we need logistics, supplies, and all this stuff to take over an area of control territory, there’s not much doctrine on the reverse of that. So, that was a weird deal. It was a real challenge, as we tend to accumulate a lot of stuff after 20 years of being in one place.
We had to get rid of many pieces of equipment and then turn things over to our Afghan allies. As rapidly as we pulled out, the Taliban was ready. They were essentially a government in waiting. I’ve said several times that last winter was a very mild winter, and we didn’t see the reduction in violence seasonally that we usually see in Afghanistan. We saw a persistent level of conflict where the Taliban attacked the Afghan National Army and the Afghan defense forces in Afghanistan about 100 attacks a night with 40 to 50 guys killed every night. It’s a significant level of violence against the local guys. This perception that all the Afghans just gave up and rolled over is not accurate. They’ve been getting their teeth kicked in for months and months, and we’ve been assisting them, of course, with superior air support. But, it just is a challenging position to be in. We turn over equipment, and when that government collapses, that equipment then goes to the victor. Some of the heroes over there, those Afghan guys drove their equipment into the rivers, some of those guys destroyed what they could, and God bless them. They’ve got a tough road ahead of them. As we look back, we’ll talk about this for the next 50 years. The 20 years we spent there were where people got a right to vote and where people got to participate in their government. Those individuals had seen the light, and they will, I think, eventually make a significant impact on the future of Afghanistan. There are several great books written about Afghanistan — one of them is called Games Without Rules: The Often-Interrupted History of Afghanistan. It’s like Afghanistan is on this trajectory, and great powers keep trying to interject and influence it, but they’re on this trajectory. It just gets interrupted every once in a while. It’s a complex situation, and it’s heartbreaking to see the humanitarian crisis that is now over there. Anyway, it’s a fascinating perspective.
Garrit: What do you think the future holds for the people of Afghanistan?
Travis: It’s way too soon to tell. I think it’ll get worse before it gets better. The one thing that I think the Taliban recognizes is their need for international support. Money from any government comes with strings attached. So, there will be conditions-based support from the international community that the Taliban will rely upon because they don’t have a functioning economy at this point to support their government. We’re going to have to be very cautious about the way we move forward with our foreign diplomacy. We need to make sure that we have some clawback provisions to ensure that women’s rights are upheld, but, as I said, I feel like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Garrit: Well, moving on, you’re the mayor of Atlanta, Texas, and you recently announced that you would be running for Cass County Judge. Could you elaborate on why you’ve decided to run for Cass County Judge? Also, could you explain what exactly a County Judge does?
Travis: Sure. County governments in Texas are essentially the action arm of the legislature. The legislature meets 140 days every two years, and they pass all these laws, and then the county governments effectively execute those laws. It’s a unique position in that, especially in a rural county like Cass County, we have over 1000 miles of the roadway, so we have a county jail and a county sheriff’s department, and all that. The County Judge is the, I want to say, the ringleader in a sense, but you have minimal authority. It’s not like you can dictate what you want. You have to get along with other elected officials because the County Sheriff is elected by the same constituents elect you as County Judge. You have to deal with County Commissioners who are over a particular precinct within the county, and those guys are elected. Then you have to deal with the County Clerk who’s elected and a County Treasurer who’s also elected. You’re dealing with other elected officials, like the District Attorney, who is not accountable to you but the people directly. So, as a chief elected officer, your goal is to get along with others to understand their problems, establish good fiscal policy for the people in the county, and bring it all together, build consensus, and do a good job of doing a good job fiscal responsibility. You’re funded in various ways, and most of our funding is through a property tax. Of course, everybody thinks their property tax should be lower, but people also don’t want to drive on dirt roads. So, you’ve got this project, and you’re weighing the cost versus gain, and it’s up to those commissioners to manage the roads in their county and that piece of the budget. Anyway, we’ve had a good track record in the city of Atlanta with passing good fiscal responsibility policies, and those have paid off. We’re in better financial shape in the city of Atlanta than we ever have been. We have a six months fund balance in the bank. I mean, there were times when, if the state rolled out a grant and the federal government rolled out a grant, let’s say it was $4 million, and it was a 20% match, we couldn’t have come up with a game to do that. You can’t leverage those projects and grant funds from federal and state entities if you don’t have a little fund balance to do the match. Now we’re in a position where we can comfortably pay cash for things as they break and provide the game for grants as they come in. That’s a better position, and I’d like to get the county in a similar place — long term. Like Afghanistan, we didn’t get into that problem overnight, and we won’t resolve it overnight. It will take time to build. So, the county government is the government that’s closest to your home. You talk about local control as a conservative policy; local authority is essential to county governments and municipal governments. We’re a long way from Austin, and so when you see things in the state of Texas that are “one-size-fits-all” solutions, you’re just listening to Austin, Houston, Dallas, and those urban areas. You’re missing out on a large portion of the state of Texas that is outside of that I-35 corridor. We have different challenges out here with many roadways, and we don’t have the population density to build that tax base that they have in the urban areas.
Garrit: So, by running for Cass County Judge, you will be leaving your current position vacant. What are your thoughts on who will potentially replace you as mayor?
Travis: Garrit, that’s the number one question I get asked the most! People never ask me about county government. They say, “well, but who’s going to be mayor?” The answer is I don’t know. The people will have to decide. I have talked to several people about it. My goal going in was not to be the “forever mayor.” I think I said that going into this. Look, I want to be the right leader at the right time in the history of Atlanta, but Atlanta is not like me as a human — we have a limited life cycle. Still, the city of Atlanta will live on, and I want just to be the best mayor I can be during this phase in the lifecycle of the city of Atlanta. The following person that comes in, I want them to be a great cheerleader to pick it up and own it while it’s theirs. I want to set them up to be as successful as possible. I want them to be a big cheerleader for our city like I’ve tried to be — really reimagining Atlanta as “small town USA” that’s a great place to live, raise a family, locate, grow a business, and visit and relax. That resonates with many people, especially in the chaos created by COVID in these urban environments. When you look at Seattle, Los Angeles, and these major metropolitan areas, the disorder is out there with these riots and defunding of police like in Austin. People are fleeing the urban areas, and they’re figuring out that they can live in northeast Texas inexpensively; they get high-speed internet available to the in-town anyway, and if they can work remotely, that’s a whole lot better cost/quality of living. We have more liberty and fewer taxes. It’s a great deal. We’re telling our story, and I think it resonates with people, and I think the next mayor will be set up for success, but I don’t have a name to throw out there. As I said, I don’t want to put a plugin for anybody because I don’t know who ultimately will decide, “hey, I want to volunteer 40 hours a week for $100 a month.” It’s a volunteer job.
Garrit: Yeah, as you said, it’s a bit insane here in Austin. It was a total culture shock for me when I moved down here last year. The people here, the system here, and the government are entirely different from how it is back home. It is insane. Right now, we have an effort — Proposition A — to refund the police. We had Proposition B pass earlier in the year that banned public homeless camping. We have probably one of the worst mayors in the entire country. Steve Adler is a total joke, and our city council is a joke. We have one good city Councilor in Mackenzie Kelly, but it’s crazy. This moves into my next question. With the craziness of COVID, the defunding of the police, and the rioting, I think people have realized the significance of local elected officials and local government. Because it wasn’t your US Senator that imposed COVID restrictions, and it wasn’t Trump that shut down the country — it was the mayors and city councilors. It’s not your US Representative that’s pushing critical race theory in your schools — it’s your school boards. So, could you speak on the importance of local elections?
Travis: Yeah. It blows my mind every four years that everybody gets spun up about the presidential election. The turnout during the presidential election is so large, yet the president, who is the president, really doesn’t change your life a lot. The average Joe citizen living in Atlanta, Texas, whoever the president is, it doesn’t matter unless you are in the federal government or military. The governor honestly doesn’t affect you a tremendous amount, but your mayor and city council member is the most locally elected person with jurisdiction over your life. Those are the people who affect your day-to-day life, and those are the people that, generally, you’re not voting for. You’re not showing up at the polls, and you’re not engaged. So, when you see these out-of-control school boards and city councils, it boils down to a lack of involvement. I don’t know who said it; I attributed it to Teddy Roosevelt, it’s “democracy doesn’t work, you have to work it.” That is true. Our republic form of democracy requires participation to be effective. When we are not participating, we’ve abdicated our responsibility as citizens, and we get what we get. If you didn’t vote, don’t complain. You didn’t get involved — the importance of local elected officials matters. We have a neighboring city that has a 41% higher tax rate than ours. But they’re a small city. They don’t have the tax base that Atlanta does. I mean, Atlanta is a small city, but Queen City to our north has a significantly higher tax rate than ours. They’re kind of flying below the radar, in a sense. People aren’t engaged. They’re not out there on social media, and I’m not criticizing them at all. I don’t know what their budget is like. I haven’t looked at it. I don’t live over there, and I don’t get over there. But I don’t hear anything about it, and it’s because people aren’t super engaged with it. It’s all local control — which I believe in. I believe in local control, and, unfortunately, the Republican Party has lost a lot. They get down to Austin, and they think local control is Austin — it’s not. Allow the citizens to choose those people who are closest to them to represent them. Government should be responsive, transparent, and treat everyone fairly. That’s what we’ve attempted to do in Atlanta. When you lump in all cities, you take in cities like Atlanta, and then you get cookie-cutter solutions. We don’t have anything in common with Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, or Houston. Those are big cities with huge budgets. We’re a tiny city with less than 100 people on city staff.
Garrit: We’ve talked about this before, but what are your thoughts on redistricting?
Travis: It’s the shrinking rural voice — I think it could be summed up that way. Indeed, urban growth has made the districts larger geographically, in the rural areas, which means that we’ve lost representation. Instead of covering four counties, our state reps are now covering five or six counties in Northeast Texas. Chris Paddie’s district was essentially dissolved. Jay Dean will take Marion County, and VanDeaver will take Cass County. In our statehouse, we’ve lost representation because we have less rural representation in the state legislature. The same is true in the federal legislature. Even though we’ve gained two additional US congressmen, we lost the rural voice. They split up northeast Texas. We will get, in Cass County, Louie Gohmert — arguably one of the most conservative guys on Capitol Hill. Pat Fallon, our current congressman, will cover Congressional District Four and a portion of Bowie County, and that was very strategic. That was an amendment by VanDeaver to include Red River Army Depot in Fallon’s district. I’m not sure if it’s the right thing to do for the long term, but I think it’s smart right now because you usually don’t want to split up counties, but now we have essentially two congressmen. Gohmert will cover most of Bowie County, and Fallon will cover a sliver of Bowie County to cut out Red River Army Depot because Fallon is on the House Armed Services Committee. Red River Army Depot is hugely important to our region because they’re the largest employer between Texarkana and Dallas. About 8 to 10% of the workforce from Red River Army Depots are from Cass County. If Red River Army Depot closes, we will feel the pain in Cass County. People that live in Cass County work in Bowie County — we’re socio-economically tied together. So, there are two ways to look at it. Locally, I feel like we’ve got two congressmen in our area, which is great, but on a broader scale, the rural voice is shrinking. That’s a concern when you talk about limited government, private property rights, and local control. We have a different way of thinking in the rural area than they do in the urban area. It’s a significant concern, especially when we consider things like the Marvin Nichols Reservoir, which I feel is a real threat to urban areas. Property rights have to matter, and local control has to count. We can’t abandon those principles because it’s convenient to do so.
Garrit: You touched on this a little earlier, and you’re very active in this, but can you explain what the Marvin Nichols Reservoir is?
Travis: Yeah, so the Marvin Nichols Reservoir is a great business plan. It has to do with the Dallas/Fort Worth region. Water groups designated a reservoir site of private landowners in northeast Texas, flooding about 66,000 acres and then taking another 130 plus 1000 acres for mitigation. So, over 200,000 acres were taken out of private property owners’ hands to create a shallow lake that will provide water for the next 50 years for Dallas. They sell bottled water in Dallas, and there are at least 18 water parks in the DFW area. In DFW, it’s economic development for them to take it by eminent domain by the acre-foot, which is one acre of land flooded a foot deep. An acre-foot of water is a lot of water and to sell it back $3 per bottle is a heck of a business plan. That’s what this is about. It’s not about needs — it about wants. It’s about wanting control. It’s about money. Again, principles of private property rights matter. That’s on our platform. If our platform matters, if we’re genuinely conservative Republicans, and our platform matters, and we stand for the values that we’ve purported to have. It’s unconscionable to take this private property from people for economic development. That’s what this is. It’s detrimental to the timber industry, which, as you know, in northeast Texas, “timber is King.” We have paper mills. The largest hardwood sawmill in the state of Texas is in Cass County. They employ a lot of people, and timber is a renewable resource. The timber companies in the timber industry have been good stewards of the land for many generations. What we’ve got is the state of Texas designating a potential reservoir site on land that they don’t own. They haven’t compensated the landowners for this designation. They’ve encumbered the ground in a sense by designating it as a future reservoir site. If I own land in that floodplain or in that reservoir site, I can’t sell it without disclosing, “hey, by the way, this is a potential future reservoir site that may be flooded one day.” Well, how are you going to build your house there? You’re not going to make a farm there. You’re not going to plant trees there. So, you’ve not compensated people for a designation you put on their private land. It’s a real problem. That’s what we’re up against. We have the Texas Water Development Board, and they assemble the state water plan every five years. Right now, region C, the DFW area, will probably put the Marvin Nichols Reservoir in their regional water plan and speed up the timeline on that reservoir construction in their regional water plan. Region D, northeast Texas, where the actual physical reservoir is taking it out of their project. They don’t see that as a conflict because “oh, well, you don’t want the water out of this because your region D, we want it in region C.” Well, the problem is we don’t want that at all. We don’t need it. We can show you where you can raise the level of existing reservoirs. You can conserve, you can reuse, you can reduce, and you can provide water for your citizens for the next 50 years. What they’re not doing is charging adequately for the water. Ultimately, it’s a private property rights issue. Conservatives need to step up because if they can do it in northeast Texas; they’ll do it in your neighborhood next. It sets a terrible precedent.
Garrit: How long do we have to stop this?
Travis: For the rest of our lives. Until we have it undesignated as a reservoir site, the fight just continues. We need to put conservation into conservatism for a moment. I think each succeeding generation is seeing the rural landscape be overdeveloped and harmed. So, I don’t think that they’re going to be flooding that many acres of land two generations from now. I’m optimistic that we will delete the need for large infrastructure projects like the Marvin Nichols Reservoir in the future through innovation, reduction, reuse, and conservation.
Garrit: How does someone get involved with stopping the Marvin Nichols Reservoir?
Travis: One, go to PreserveNortheastTexas.org and sign the petition. We want folks to sign the petition. Two, is to follow the state water plan development process from the regional water level up to the state level. When provided an opportunity to comment, let them know that private property rights are essential. Talk to your legislators and your local cities, counties, and school boards. All those guys have a vested interest because when you flood that acreage, you’re no longer collecting property tax on it. That’s your primary source of funding. So, if you’re in one of the counties or one of the school districts affected by the proposed reservoir site, how are you going to fund your school? Just make sure that your locally elected folks are educated on the Marvin Nichols Reservoir and that they’re supporting landowners’ rights.
Garrit: Okay, well, Travis, that is about all the questions I have. Do you have any final words as we end this interview?
Travis: Yeah. I would say our public officials need prayer, and they also need grace. We’re just humans, like everybody else. Nobody’s perfect. I think that the cacophony of noise that is reported in our federal government is bleeding into our local politics far too much. We need to put our Christian values into action and use a little more grace when dealing with other local elected officials. The sharpshooting, as we call it in the military, when somebody picks apart someone’s presentation or picks apart their ideas, when there’s a kinder way to handle people and when you’re talking about local government school boards or city council’s, know that you’re talking about your friends and neighbors. I would say be cautious not to let the federal government’s cacophony of noise and nitpicking inflammatory comments bleed into your local neighborhood because all you’re doing is giving the federal government and their problems too much power. It’s vitally essential who the president is, but your local elected officials are crucial too. Most of the work they do, they don’t do because they have a personal agenda. They do it because they love their community, and they want their community to be better. So, give them the benefit of the doubt, educate yourself, and give a little grace. Since you started working for The Texas Horn, Garrit, I started reading The Texas Horn, and you guys have a talented staff. There’s a lot of excellent information and great articles. I like the interview you did with Raul Reyes, the article titled “From Afghanistan to China: The Consequences of America’s Losses,” and the article about progressivism and conservatism. I love it. In fact, I just shared it with a friend of mine here in Atlanta today. He’s a voracious reader of conservative news, and he didn’t know about The Texas Horn, and I said you got to check it out. I said, “Garrit Blizzard is from Atlanta, Texas, and he’s one of the writers. He grew up across the street from me.” We’re just proud of you, man. I enjoy seeing your work, and I know that you’re in the middle of that liberal enclave in Austin, Texas. You’re down in the middle of it all. Just be open-minded and listen, but stick to your values and your principles. I’m proud of you. I think you’re doing great stuff down there.
Garrit: Thank you so much. That means a lot. Chris Schlak, our Editor-In-Chief, will be delighted to hear that. Thank you for your time.
Garrit Blizzard is the Editor-In-Chief of The Texas Horn. He is a senior studying government at the University of Texas at Austin. Garrit enjoys reading, listening to music, and discussing politics and economics.