Constitution 101

By Mike Overall
Jonesboro Occasions Magazine
February, 2010

Even if Cathy Travis of Washington, D.C., former congressional insider/staffer-turned-writer, doesn’t get another book published, which she is determined to do, her remarkable book, Constitution Translated for Kids, has placed her squarely on the literary map.

The former Jonesboro resident retired from public service a few years ago and immediately set about writing Constitution, a line-by-line translation of the 1787 Age of Enlightenment document.

Although the book is written on a fifth-grade level, citizens of all ages should give it a reading, in particular those whose knowledge of the Constitution is limited, and especially those who haven’t taken to heart and memory the Preamble and those precious freedoms which are enshrined in the document, as well as the remarkable Bill of Rights.

Travis, who grew up in Jonesboro and graduated from ASU in 1982 with a journalism degree and specialization in political science, said Constitution was inspired by one of the 1992 presidential debates, “when independent candidate Ross Perot made statements about the Constitution that were just plain wrong.”

Now in its third edition (there is a hardback, paperback and a Spanish language version), Constitution has been read by thousands of children in the 75 to 100 schools where it is studied. No doubt more schools will be incorporating the book into their curricula because it has drawn praise from a variety of sources on The Hill, from a multiplicity of media sources and even an accolade from an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

Although she started researching and writing the first of three editions of the book several years ago, Travis said finding a publisher was difficult. “Nobody wanted it,” she said. “For a new writer, getting published is difficult, and even more so today.” Much more time would elapse before the first edition was published and marketed.

Travis, “fifty...but childish,” is as passionate concerning politics and government as she is her most singular book.

“The Constitution is our only common birthright,” she said. “It should be required reading (in schools). And now, there actually is a federal law for schools to teach the Constitution.” Her website,, offers teaching resources for classrooms.

The daughter of Lois Travis of Jonesboro and the late Bo Travis, the author said generations of youngsters have not been taught the Constitution and the seminal role it plays in government.

“But do not blame the teachers,” she said. “Education today is a tough nut to crack. Remember the No Child Left Behind Act? The social studies teachers I talk with call it ‘One Subject Left Behind’. Students do not have to pass tests related to social studies, the Constitution, or history. They do have to pass tests for math and science, but ... geez, at what expense?”

After she left ASU, an old family friend, former First District Democratic Congressman Bill Alexander, put Travis to work as his deputy press secretary. Alexander also secured her a job in the Office of the Doorkeeper of the House, where she worked on the floor, watching laws being made and advising House members on current and future floor activity. She also worked in the House leadership office when Alexander was Deputy Majority Whip.

Later, Travis served for 18 years as press secretary and communications director for Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas).  Then, after a career on the Hill spanning 25 years, she decided to retire.

“I didn’t leave Mr. Ortiz, we’re still family,” she wrote. “I left the government. If people ask me, I’ll dabble some more in politics. The hours were killer and people could be small.”

As she explained, “I wanted to start a second career as an author of fiction. The promise of making my own schedule, of doing what I wanted to do and being released from a brutal calendar, well, it just exhilarated me.I couldn’t have done any of those things if I’d stayed on the Hill.”

Reflecting on her long career, she said it was “an extraordinary opportunity. At any given moment, there are only four-hundred and thirty-five people...doing that job. It’s the best job on the Hill, and people told me I was good at it. But I wanted to do other things, to see if I could be good at something else.”

In addition to writing Constitution and her two novels, Travis has “ghosted” a book for a former member of Congress and even served as an international election observer for the presidential election in Azerbaijan (a former Soviet republic) in 2008. “That was very cool.”

Although the current economic malaise has jarred the publishing industry and made it well-nigh impossible for a new writer to get published, Travis continues to write, confident that the industry will recuperate and revitalize when the economy regains its footing.

“The (publishing) market won’t stay soft forever,” she predicted. “I’ll just keep on writing. Maybe I’ll have finished another couple of novels by then.”

In her letter to Travis, Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote: “Your (Constitution) book is surely a wonderful learning tool for children of both languages.”

Cathy Travis is a communicator and a writer, which is a winning combination for a woman whose abiding passions are every citizen’s birthright, the freedoms that are inherent in a constitutional democracy, and a writer’s freedom to set down on paper the thoughts, reflections, observations and opinions that serve as fodder for the literary arts.

Be patient. Books “by Cathy Travis” may hit the shelves even before the economy shakes off its doldrums and roars back to life.