Times 2020 Election Candidate Profile: Travis Johnson, District 1 Polk County Commissioner

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

Tell us about yourself, your family, education, career and political experience

    I grew up in South-east Louisiana, I like to tell people any further south and I would have gotten my feet wet!  It was a small town called Larose, La and was mostly a small agriculture, oilfield and seafood industry area.   After graduating high school, I worked a couple jobs in the oil industry and for the American Red Cross before entering the Army in 1991 and served as a payroll clerk until 1997. 

    In 1993, I met my wife, the former Terri Weber from the Crookston/Fertile area of Polk county and we had our first two children, Christopher (1994) and Alexis (1996). Chris is currently enrolled at UND and Lexi graduated from U of M twin cities campus in 2019.  In 1997, we left the army and moved to the twin cities area, I lasted one Minnesota winter before we then moved to Texas as part of a job transfer.  I will say that winter was an eye opener for me.  From 1997 to 2004, I worked in the car industry, first renting them and later in sales. 

    In 2004, I decided I needed to go back to school and finish my education and joined the Texas National Guard (at this time we were in Texas) in June 2004.  By November, I was preparing for a deployment to the middle east and deployed in January 2005.  While on deployment, I realized how much I missed the military and transferred back to active duty, where I remained until 2018 when I retired as a Sergeant First Class and moved back to Minnesota to stay.  My assignments included duty stations in Germany, Atlanta,GA, Kuwait, Fort Carson,  CO, Iraq, Lisbon, Portugal, South Korea, Washington DC (twice), and Amman, Jordan.  My duties included Detachment Sergeant, Budget NCO, Military Pay Manager for Korea and an Defense Attaché Staff NCO at the US Embassy in Amman Jordan.  

    While in the military, I completed a B.A. in Human Resources with the University of Maryland and a Masters in International Relations – Conflict Resolution concentration from the American Military University.  I am currently enrolled at the University of Minnesota-Crookston pursuing an animal science degree.

    Upon retirement in June of 2018, we moved to an 8 acre property north of Beltrami, Minnesota, to start a small  farm.  We also have an additional 40 acres we use for additional livestock that Terri’s parents are allowing us to use.  It was on this additional 40 acers as I was attempting to build a run in  for our belted galloways that I ran into challenges with the building permits that spur me into this decision to run for county commissioner.  Just seemed for an area so based on agriculture, we make it harder than it has to be.  

    This past year, we were blessed to add our daughter Jamee to our family.  Jamee is a Senior at Crookston High school this fall.  

    When I was first thinking about running, it made me realize I miss serving.  For 20 years, that was just who I was in the Army, I served my country and I served my Soldiers and I realized this was an opportunity for me to continue to serve.  That is how I see the opportunity to sit on the Polk County Board of Commissioners, as a chance to continue to serve my new community and the people who live here.

Why are you running to be the District 1 Polk County Commissioner?

    Last year, I attended a county commissioner's meeting with a permit concern, while I was there, I just felt like they saw me as an interruption of their job, not the reason for their job.  I would ask questions and they really did not have answers for me.  I just wanted to know why they felt they needed to restrict my land usage 150 feet from a gravel county road in an agriculturally zoned area.  They could not provide a suitable answer, and furthermore did not seem to feel they had to.   The fact that no one would take ownership or even promise to get back to me with an answer, just sat wrong with me.  They really did not seem to feel accountable to us.  This, coupled with a desire to continue to serve, is what drove me to run for county commissioner.  

What would you like to accomplish on day one if you’re elected?

    On day one, I would like to get a better understanding of what I don't know.  In 20 years of working in the federal government, I have come to realize, there is usually a reason things are done the way they are so I would like to get a better understanding of why they are done the way they are.  At the end of the day, if I am elected,  I will only be one member of a five person commission responsible for our county. I guess the one thing I would like to accomplish on day one is for the people of my district to know they have a voice at the county who will do his best to represent his constituents.

What area would you like to see the county make improvements? i.e. roads, bridges, natural resources, small businesses, infrastructure, etc. Explain.

    I think roads are always something we would like to see improvements on, that said however, due to COVID, our highway funds from the gas tax is going to take a huge bite out of that budget, so big improvements in that area will likely be limited.  Other than that I would like a review of the zoning regulations to ensure that they are not overly restrictive to meet the needs of the County, for example, is 150 feet on both sides of a gravel country road really necessary for the right of way and set aside in an agriculturally zoned area? There are many other areas of improvement I have interest in, such as building up our small businesses and developing more local markets for our agriculture industry.

In regards to the handling of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, name one thing you agree with that Governor Walz has done for the state of Minnesota. Explain.

    One policy I have agreed with was Executive Order 20-80 which allowed local school districts to set policy for reopening using local date to drive the decision making, this has been one of my biggest complaints about how it was all handled, the situation on the ground in Polk County is not the same as it is in the cities and we should have to freedom to act according to local conditions for everything and not just schools reopening.

In regards to the handling of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, name one thing you disagree with that Governor Walz has done for the state of Minnesota. Explain.  

    Gov Walz has taken to running the state on decrees, Since the pandemic started, he has issued 90 executive orders, while only 38 were issued during 2019.  He has used these executive orders to continue his declaration of a peacetime emergency which continues to grant him expanded powers not normally vested in the executive. This is an abuse of the intent of the emergency declaration.

If the state were to say that it was up to each individual county to set its own COVID-19 public health safety guidelines and judging by the county’s current positive case numbers, would you like to see the mask mandate for all continue or would you want to leave it up to individuals and businesses? Explain.

    As a whole, I have been against a mask mandate on the Government level with the execution of Government buildings. I believe that the Government has the right and responsibility to do what it feels it must to protect their employees.  Accommodations may have to be made for those who can not wear a mask for some reason and need government services.  I believe that businesses also have that right and responsibility to make that decision for themselves.  Truth is some people will not visit local businesses if they have to wear a mask, they will just use Amazon or the like where they can just order it and have it delivered.  These mandates are putting our small businesses in a no win situation, they enforce an unpopular mandate and potentially lose customers or they get fined for not enforcing a mandate that should not be their responsibility to enforce.  That said, the rising numbers in polk county over the last few weeks will need to be addressed.  I did expect the numbers to rise as UMC came back into session and the current numbers are concerning however I know UMC does have an aggressive plan in place to reduce the possibility of spreading it further.  I guess at the end of the day I would like to leave it to individuals and businesses, however I am open to changing my position if our numbers do not drop over the next couple weeks or we get to a point where the pressure on our medical services start to run into issues.

What do you like to do for fun? Hobbies?

    As I mentioned earlier is part one, when I retired, I started a small farm out between Fertile and Crookston, I really enjoy spending time out there with my animals.  We also enjoy spending time at the county fairs and enjoy spending time with the family.  I am an avid hunter and fisherman although this year, I did not spend nearly as much time as I would have liked on the lake!

What is your favorite place to visit in Minnesota?      

    That is really a tough question, it is probably a visit I have not made it to yet.  I love renn faires so would love to get down to Shakopee for the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, other than that I love to spend time at Maple Lake or just in the woods enjoying nature.

What is your favorite restaurant and where is it located?  

    One of our favorite restaurants is Erickson's Smokehouse in Fertile, I really enjoy the briskett and wings while my wife Terri thinks the 7 layer dip is fantastic!

Travis Johnson