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McConnell says he's awaiting Trump guidance on health care
McConnell says he's awaiting Trump guidance on health care

STERLING, Va. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he’s willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor if President Donald Trump makes clear he supports it.

A proposal by two senators — Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington — would extend for two years federal insurance payments that Trump has blocked, in an effort to stabilize insurance markets.

But Trump has offered mixed signals, alternately praising and condemning the effort — confusing Democrats and Republicans alike.

Asked whether he would bring the bill to the floor McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he was waiting “to hear from President Trump what kind of health care bill he might sign.”

“If there’s a need for some kind of interim step here to stabilize the market, we need a bill the president will actually sign. And I’m not certain yet what the president is looking for here, but I will be happy to bring a bill to the floor if I know President Trump would sign it,” the Republican said. He added of Trump: “I think he hasn’t made a final decision.”

The plan unveiled last week likely has 60 votes in the Senate, mostly from Democrats, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday urged McConnell to bring it to the floor “immediately, this week.”

“This is a good compromise,” Schumer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He predicted it would pass “by a large number of votes” and that the president would ultimately sign it to avoid the blame for rising insurance premiums.

“If Republicans think that if premiums go up they’re going to avoid the blame, if Senator McConnell thinks that, he’s wrong,” Schumer said.

Trump at first suggested he supported the temporary fix as he continues to hold out hope for the passage of legislation that would repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which Republicans who control the House and Senate have repeatedly failed to achieve. But White House officials said later that Trump would only sign an interim bill that also lifts the tax penalties that Obama’s health care law imposes on people who don’t buy coverage and employers who don’t offer plans to employees. The White House also wants provisions making it easier for people to buy low-premium policies with less coverage. Top Senate Democrats reject those demands.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Trump doesn’t want to back a plan “without also getting something for folks who are being hurt.”

“And I think the criticisms you’ve heard this week are like, ‘Look, I’m okay with doing a deal.’ This is the president now. ‘But I’m not getting enough for the folks who are getting hurt. So give me more by way of associated health plans. Give me more of the things that we know we can do for folks back home to actually help them,’” Mulvaney said.

“I think there’s actually a pretty good chance to get a deal,” he added. “It’s just Murray-Alexander in its current form probably isn’t far enough yet.”

The White House is also focused on taxes, with Mulvaney pitching Trump’s plan, which would lower the corporate tax rate and double the standard personal income tax deduction.

Rapid relocation
Art Center of Waco officials looking for new location

Art Center of Waco board members and staffers likely won’t be going back to the building they called home for more than 40 years, after a structural problem forced its evacuation Oct. 4.

Board President Jill Michaels said the departure, forced by a critical support beam pulling away from an exterior wall, likely will be permanent as Art Center board members, administrators and supporters accelerate their search for a new building or space.

McLennan Community College officials closed the building, which it leases to the Art Center of Waco, after an inspection found the structural problem was getting worse. The action temporarily moved the center’s current photographic exhibition and Art Center staff to Cultivate 7twelve, a gallery and arts space in downtown Waco.

As Art Center officials looked at the possible timeline of repairs and the upcoming expiration of their building lease, they realized the time to move has come.

“MCC, and rightly so, puts safety before everything else,” Michaels said. “The reality of this is that we are not able to return to our building.”

The center has used that building, built in the 1910s as the summer home of the William Cameron family, since 1976, after a major renovation of the property funded by Art Center donors and the college.

A board subcommittee had been exploring relocation options for some time and started to intensify its efforts after MCC informed the center this summer that it would not renew its lease on a long-term basis when it expires in September 2018.

Michaels said the board felt it likely that, given a possible 90-day lease extension, the center would have until the end of 2018 to move.

Discovery of the structural problem and the scale of its repair, however, threw that timetable out the window.

MCC officials are awaiting a report on what repairs are needed and at what cost, but Sid Ross, MCC director of facilities, planning and construction, said the structural problem likely won’t be a quick or cheap fix.

The beam in question lies under the main gallery floor and supports second-story floor joists. It had begun to pull away from the center’s east exterior wall, causing minor sagging of the gallery floor and a two- to 3-inch gap between the floor and wall inside.

If the beam should suddenly fail, it could pull the floor down with it and possibly cause the exterior wall to collapse, a potential life-threatening disaster if anyone were in the building at the time.

“We shut it down in the name of safety,” Ross said.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Steel supports brace the Art Center of Waco's east exterior wall.

The center and MCC’s Northwood House, the Cameron family’s former carriage house, are the campus’ oldest buildings, constructed roughly a century ago. Even before the structural issue, MCC officials knew the Art Center’s building was due for a major remodeling.

The potential cost of that led to the decision not to renew the center’s lease next year, said Stephen Benson, vice president for finance and administration. The Art Center has paid MCC $10 annually for the lease, while the college covers maintenance and utilities, Benson said.

“It’s been a good partnership for the college and the Art Center,” he said.

The major expense of building renovation, however, made college officials consider changing its use for a more direct benefit for MCC, such as office or classroom space or as a community-use venue, Benson said.

MCC’s plans for the Art Center building will hinge on what a report from an architect and structural engineer finds.

“In the next month or two, we’ll know the extent of what repairs need to be done and how much to fix it,” Benson said.

With the realization they are unlikely to return, the Art Center has redoubled its efforts to find a location downtown or nearby.

Much of the Art Center’s income comes from memberships, fundraisers, including one scheduled Friday at Balcones Distillery, classes and courtyard rentals. The center will be able to continue its courtyard rentals, but the loss of some classes and its gift shop due to the building closure will hit its budget, as will the extra expense of renting office and storage space, Michaels, the board president, said.

“We are very concerned and dipping into the money that was going toward a new building,” she said. For years, Art Center of Waco administrators and board members have discussed the possibility of moving to a more central site, its present north Waco location on the edge of the MCC campus viewed as hard for a visitor to find.

The Art Center of Waco bought a 2.2 acre tract in downtown Waco from the Waco Independent School District in 2001, but after the center failed to build on the property, the district bought back the land in 2007.

Downtown development in recent years has heated up real estate prices, complicating the board’s search. Renovation of an existing building is more likely than construction of a new facility, but options are open, Michaels said.

“Everybody wants us downtown. Whether that’s Elm Street, midtown, uptown or downtown, we don’t know,” she said. “I feel confident we can find a space.”

Trump voting commission criticized for lack of transparency
Trump voting commission criticized for lack of transparency

President Donald Trump’s advisory commission on election integrity has integrity questions of its own — with some of its own members raising concerns about its openness.

This past week, two members fired off letters to commission staff complaining about a lack of information about the panel’s agenda and demanding answers about its activities. That comes as Democratic U.S. senators are requesting a government investigation of the commission for ignoring formal requests from Congress.

The criticism from the commissioners was remarkable because it came from insiders — the very people who are supposed to be privy to its internal discussions and plans.

In a letter sent Oct. 17, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said it was clear he was not being made aware of information pertaining to the commission. He requested copies of all correspondence between commission members since Trump signed the executive order creating it in May.

“I am in a position where I feel compelled to inquire after the work of the commission upon which I am sworn to serve, and am yet completely uninformed as to its activities,” Dunlap wrote in his letter to Andrew Kossack, the commission’s executive director.

He said he had received no information about the commission’s research or activities since its last meeting, on Sept. 12. He also said he continued to receive media inquiries about commission developments “that I as a commissioner am blind to.”

A commissioner from Alabama, Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan L. King, said he sent a similar letter late last week. He said the only information he has received since the commission’s meeting more than a month ago was an email informing him of the death of a fellow commissioner, former Arkansas state lawmaker David Dunn.

“Here I am on this high-level government committee, and I don’t know when the next meetings are or how many meetings there will be,” he said in a telephone interview. “I am in the dark on what will happen from this point on, to tell you the truth.”

King and Dunlap are two of four Democrats on the 11-member commission.

Requests for comment sent to Kossack, the commission’s executive director, and the commission’s vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, were not returned.

J. Christian Adams, a commission member who was a Justice Department attorney under former President George W. Bush, said in an email that all commissioners were receiving the same information.

13 candidates vie for 3 Gatesville ISD school board seats

Early voting starts Monday in the packed Nov. 7 race for Gatesville Independent School District’s three open school board seats.

The district had 14 candidates file to fill one of the three-year terms, elected at-large. One candidate is no longer seeking the office for medical reasons, but the decision came too late to have her name removed from the ballot.

The Tribune-Herald asked each candidate what made them decide to run and what their biggest priority or focus would be if elected.

Charles Alderson, 71, retired Evant ISD administrator

“You can tell by the number of candidates running there are a lot of issues within the district. Being employed there for 40 years, I know more about the issues than anyone and know how to go about some of them. We’re going to focus on supporting our teachers, teacher retention and discipline within the school district.”

Lisbeth Graham Appelman, 43, school board secretary and home builder

Lisbeth Graham Appelman photo 


Student success for Gatesville ISD children is personal for her, Appelman said. She is a graduate of the high school, the daughter of a retired Gatesville teacher and has three sons in the district. She has been on the board since 2011.

“My top priority is to make meaningful improvements to the learning environment that will facilitate student success. Focusing on aligning curriculum, addressing aging facilities and executing the GISD strategic plan in a fiscally responsible manner all play a vital role in ensuring that our students are receiving the best education possible.”

Lisa Pruitt Bankhead, 45, manager of a family business

Lisa Pruitt Bankhead 


She decided to run after she was approached by several community members who urged her to consider the role, she said.

“If I were elected, I know I would put 110 percent into this position. I believe in ‘Making Our Schools Great!’ I want the best for our children, administration and our community. I am confident with my administrative, financial and leadership skills that I’m able to hold this position without difficulties.”

Joseph Campbell, 42, President of V2R Masonry

Joseph Campbell photo 


Campbell decided to run because he served on the district’s strategic planning committee. He said he can help with a strategic plan and provide an environment that empowers teachers. Rebuilding the disconnect between parents and the school system is his top priority, he said.

“Each educator must be supported by the parent or guardian in providing a safe, quality education. We must bring the groups together to develop a guidance and discipline plan that works for the teachers with support from the administrators and parents.”

Ryan C. Coggins, 18, Gatesville High School student

Ryan C. Coggins photo 


Coggins chose to run because he wants to add to the good things the district is already doing by bringing fresh, up-to-date perspectives and ideas to the board as a current student, he said.

“The opportunity for all students to reach their full learning potential is my top priority, and should be the top priority of each candidate that is running. … Digital technology must become a common tool for learning in GISD. We are going to have to bring devices into our schools that will help to improve how we educate our youth. We must institute programs that promote patriotism, a love of our nation, community, and school district. Because, that is the foundation for forming a respectable and teachable child.”

Rob Erwin, 58, TTG Utilities haul truck driver

Rob Erwin photo 


Erwin chose to run because he wants his two grandchildren and their peers to have the same level of education he received in Gatesville. His grandchildren are in the fourth generation of Erwins to go through the district, and lately, the district has gone through some concerning changes, he said.

“We have several issues. We have a tremendous lack of support for our teachers from the administration side. We have some budget issues, some personnel issues, people leaving the district faster than we can replace them. I’d like to isolate those problems and correct whatever’s causing it.”

Tony Fernandez, 45, Micobe Inc. assistant manager

Tony Fernandez photo 


Fernandez chose to run because he thinks the board needs new ideas from a non-political perspective and needs to put students’ interests first, he said. He is a parent of three Gatesville graduates and one current student.

“My main focus in the next three years as a trustee is to instill trust back to our parents and citizens and bring back parent, teacher, student involvement both in school and in the administration aspect of education, so that all three entities find suitable grounds at all agendas. And to provide the people of this community I grew up in the best of my hard and honest integrity and intentions to fulfill the duties of my position.”

David Fincher, 59, auto body repair shop owner

David Fincher photo 


Fincher is no stranger to the Gatesville ISD board. He was elected in 2008 and served for three years, but lost a re-election, he said. When residents asked the 1976 Gatesville graduate to run again, he took a hard look at the state of the district and decided to give it a try, he said.

“Our school is actually like a business, and the product we’re producing is the child for the future. … But the past few years, things have gotten pretty serious, I think. We’ve lost over 30 teachers that left for the wrong reason. Our discipline, from all the teachers I’m hearing and the public, our discipline isn’t being applied anymore. Discipline is a big concern of mine. We’ve also lost around 140 students to another school district, and that’s because of the discipline.”

As a self-employed small business owner, he is also hoping to spark the district’s interest in making vocational programs more of a priority, he said.

Deborah Crosby Ford, 52, school board vice president and homemaker

Deborah Crosby Ford photo 


Ford has a master’s degree in education and more than 20 years of experience as a public school teacher and counselor, she said. She and her children are Gatesville alumni, and she helped charter the Gatesville Education Foundation.

In her six years on the board, she has helped the district maintain a $19 million cash balance, build a new elementary school, a new library, a new auditorium, a new football stadium and more, she said.

“My priority remains to fully represent our students, parents, staff, faculty, administration and community. Gatesville citizens and registered voters support public education as a top priority. This unprecedented support is reflected in each of the accomplishments listed above. If re-elected to a third term, I will firmly commit to our recently adopted Gatesville ISD Strategic Plan that was developed with over 100 community members including students, parents, staff, teachers, administrators, board trustees, and leaders from all across Gatesville.”

Stephen Minton, 34, hazardous materials truck driver

Stephen Minton photo 


Minton has wanted to run for school board a while and decided go ahead now that his sons, a Gatesville seventh-grader and a freshman, are a little older and he has the time to commit, he said. He will focus on student-to-teacher ratio and bullying.

“My biggest thing is the bullying issue, or anti-bullying issue. I’ve had a few issues with my kids at school. I do like the way the school has handled it, but I think they probably need to go a few steps further to prevent it. It seems like the teachers need to be more open or more one-on-one teacher assistance in the classrooms. … All in all, I think our teachers do a very good job. It just seems like they need more help.”

Stephen A. Norris, 68, board president and physician

Stephen A. Norris photo 


Norris has served on the board for 33 years, and he chose to run again because he wants to have a part in tackling the district’s continuing challenges, he said.

“In our new strategic plan there are provisions designed to get teachers’ concerns and ideas to their peers and upper administration. A social worker will help our lower socioeconomic families in homes and at school. She will give us insight into which students do not have enough to eat. A system of better communication with our community, better use of our existing facilities and grounds, and replacement of aging buildings are included. These are the highlights.

“We have gone through a tumultuous change in culture on one of our campuses when four years of concentrated effort did not improve our STAAR scores. We lost several of our valued teachers. My focus is to continue high academic standards and return love and respect to all involved.”

Katherine Lowrey Sullivant, 68, retired

“I had a full knee replacement, not planned when I chose to run, 10 days ago. Yesterday, my orthopedic doctor told me that I didn’t need to be running for school board for several months. If I felt compelled to run, I needed to wait until next year. I am disappointed, but my family agreed. At least there are several really good candidate choices left. Unfortunately, it is too late to remove my name from the ballot. I am thankful for all the people who supported me, and sorry I had to let them down.”

Bruce Thoms, 43, operations director

Bruce Thoms photo 


Thoms serves on the district’s strategic planning committee and helps establish the vision, mission and goals for the district, he said. His daughters attend school in the district, and he coaches and volunteers at the campuses, giving him insight into academics, administration, athletics and extracurricular activities, he wrote.

“Gatesville ISD is going through growing pains as it implements changes, and there is confusion on the strategy guiding these changes and the lack of communication on these policies. Through my years in the military, government, corporate America and working with the school, I will bring detailed planning and realistic solutions before the school board and ensure the community, parents and teachers are part of the decision making process.”

John Westbrook, 60, educational consultant

John Westbrook photo 


Westbrook chose to run because he believes he has experience and expertise as a former teacher, former assistant principal and former high school principal with 32 years in Gatesville ISD can help the district, he said. He is focused on providing students opportunities to achieve at their highest level, making sure teachers and staff receive support they need and allocating money wisely, he said.

“I would focus my efforts on student achievement and growth on an individual basis. This goes beyond performance on a state-mandated standardized test. A district functions at its best when it takes into account the individual needs and interests of students. These aspects should then be supported through hiring, retention and support of quality staff, and adequate funding for beneficial programs.”

Weather service: Oklahoma hit with as many as 4 tornadoes
Weather service: Oklahoma hit with as many as 4 tornadoes

NORMAN, Okla. — State emergency managers and the National Weather Service were surveying damage Sunday from severe storms that spawned as many as four tornadoes in southwestern and central Oklahoma.

The overnight storms tore part of the roof off of a casino and toppled power lines and trees. Other businesses, including a hotel, also were damaged along with cars and trucks, said Keli Cain, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

No injuries were reported.

National Weather Service meteorologist John Pike said officials were in Tillman, Comanche, McClain and Seminole counties, where the tornadoes and damage were reported. Forecasters had issued eight tornado warnings as the storms developed Saturday evening ahead of a cold front.

The worst of the damage appeared to be in central Oklahoma at the Riverwind Casino in Norman, where a possible twister ripped part of its roof off during a Beach Boys concert that Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin attended.

Fallin said in an interview with KWTV on Saturday that there was “this huge flood of rain coming through the roof.” She said she had to be evacuated from the casino twice.

Operators at the casino said Sunday they had no time to alert guests before the possible twister hit the property because it happened at the same time that the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the area.

The casino has no electricity and parts of the property are closed off while repairs are made. Reservations were canceled through at least Tuesday, casino spokeswoman Kym Koch said.

Since most of the storms hit rural or remote areas, widespread damage was minimal, Pike said.

“Anytime we walk away like that, you can say we dodged a bullet,” he said.