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Freshmen to Watch: Travis Smith


The Missouri Times is speaking to new lawmakers this session. Get to know more of the “Freshmen to Watch” here.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Rep. Travis Smith says he’s retired from coaching, but it’s easy to see he’s brought that mentality with him to the statehouse as he navigates his first year with one word at the forefront: teamwork. 

Smith, 52, made his living in real estate development, but his true passion was coaching a bevy of high school sports for 17 years, he said. His new office on the first floor of the Capitol is covered with memorabilia, including a plaque recognizing him as the West Plains Zizzer track coach who exemplified “if you coach an event and make it important, your kids can achieve many things.” 

Rep. Travis Smith is one of the lawmakers spearheading a new, bipartisan caucus for freshman representatives to work together on issues. (THE MISSOURI TIMES/KAITLYN SCHALLHORN)

“As a coach, I wanted to win. That person — whether it was on the other side of the field or the other side of the track — they wanted to win too. But I didn’t hate them,” Smith said. “That’s the way I’m approaching this up here. During competitions, we represent different teams just like up here we represent different parties. We both want to win, but in the end, we have respect for one another.” 

Smith’s dedication to teamwork is already evident in the legislature; he’s one of the lawmakers spearheading a new, bipartisan caucus for freshman representatives to work together on issues such as economic development, access to broadband, and infrastructure. 

Smith was handily elected in November to represent HD 155 in southern Missouri after beating out fellow Republican Joe Combs in the August primary. The district is very rural — the largest town is Ava with a population of nearly 3,000 — with a palpable lack of internet access and 911 service, Smith said. But still, Smith boasts, his district is deeply spiritual. 

“When I was knocking door-to-door, it wasn’t, ‘How do you feel about this,’ or, ‘Are you a Republican or Democrat?’ It was, ‘Are you a Christian?’” Smith recalled. “My district, I’m proud of them. They are faith-based people.” 

For his freshman year, Smith stressed he wanted to be a sponge — learning the ropes of the Capitol while continuing to advocate for Missourians. But his No. 1 priority, he said, is taking care of his constituents, whether that’s through passing legislation or helping someone make contact with the county commission or aiding with the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“People campaign all the time about going to Jefferson City to do this or that,” Smith said. “To me, I feel like I’m the link in between my constituents and government — whether it be federal government, state government, or local government. I’m working to make sure they get whatever they need.” 

Smith has been appointed to serve on the Economic Development and Health and Mental Health Policy committees as well as the Special Committee on Small Business. He’s also the vice chairman of the Special Committee on Tourism. 

Keeping in line with his mission to learn during his freshman year, Smith has only filed one bill, and it’s a companion to one his state senator, Karla Eslinger, is pushing on the other side of the building: HB 513 designates the first week in September as “Fox Trotter Week.” People from all over the country come to Ava in September, doubling the city in size, for the Fox Trotter World Championship, Smith said. The Missouri Fox Trotter horse, the state horse, originated in the area. 

Smith wants to be known for two things while in the legislature: his sincerity and ability to pass legislation that helps the state of Missouri. He’s also brought his love of education to the statehouse, something he gleaned from his mother, Allison Smith, who was president of the Board of Governors at Missouri State University. 

And he’s got a motto he borrowed from another coach and mentor, Joe Bill Dixon: “TEAM: Together everyone achieves more.” 

“It’s amazing what can get done when no one gets credit,” Smith said. “That’s why I’m reaching across the aisle, that’s why I want to talk to so many different people and have an open mind.”