Since his very first election in the tea-party tidal wave of 2010, McLennan County Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry has consistently impressed us as a bold leader and consensus builder. Rather than ducking problems or applying bumper-sticker slogans to complicated challenges facing the county and constituents, he routinely has rolled up his sleeves, sounded out his fellow commissioners and constituents for input and offered practical and thoughtful solutions. We strongly recommend Ben Perry be re-elected to a third term on the county commissioners court.

Hearty congratulations to the League of Women Voters of Waco for not only staging an engaging and informative candidates forum Tuesday at Knox Hall but pursuing a more active role in helping voters better acquaint themselves with both candidates and issues. At a time when more and more dubious sources on social media mislead if not outright lie to Americans about politics — and when too many of our so-called “friends” are happy to oblige the enemies of democracy by posting such filth — the nonpartisan league in its newly reinvigorated incarnation seeks to provide deeper insight into those individuals vying for our votes.

The past six Sundays, the Waco Tribune-Herald has again offered, as a public service, lengthy Q&As with local candidates in contested races in the upcoming primary election. In coming days we’ll offer Trib editorial board recommendations of certain candidates who particularly impressed us with their grasp of the issues (many of them complicated), their ability to offer practical solutions to problems and, yes, their talent for consensus-building. As we’ve said before, such recommendations are sometimes based on their politics but more often we ascertain candidates as if they were in a job interview: Based on their answers and demeanor, who would you hire to work for you?

Cruel ironies arise from the latest mass shooting, this one at a South Florida high school where a gunman took apparent revenge on students and teachers in halls he once walked. One irony: the cries of supposed grief and anguish from national leaders for young victims, even as many of these same leaders do everything they can to exile nearly 2 million young individuals whose only crime is they were born in a foreign land and came to America through no fault of their own.

With McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna desperately dumping Twin Peaks biker cases right and left in recent days, the astonished taxpayer must demand honesty of himself if not of Reyna: Does anyone really believe Reyna has suddenly been struck by an epiphany that has stubbornly eluded him in the nearly three years since the May 17, 2015, biker shootout that left nine dead and 20 wounded?

Whether in politically seismic times such as ours or more settled periods, certain truths endure. One is that government — local, state and federal — will often seek to control and contain the release of information. Government will often equivocate, evade and outright hide information on how it executes its duties and legal obligations — and, most importantly, it will often conspire to hide how it spends your tax dollars.

The past several days the Trib has published columns pro and con about a Republican-crafted House Intelligence Committee memo causing a national tempest. Republicans allege the FBI, in pursuing a Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court warrant as part of an investigation into Russia’s influence over Donald Trump’s inner circle, hid from a FISA judge the fact that evidence used to justify this surveillance warrant came from biased research funded by Democrats in the 2016 presidential race.

We seldom recommend attending specific events in this space, but we have no such qualms about pressing fellow citizens and cherished readers to take full advantage of next Saturday’s People’s Law School, hosted annually by Baylor Law School. It again offers a stunning variety of courses touching on concerns ranging from those in our personal lives to topics festering away in the daily news. Two facts further commend it: The courses are not only free but you can take up to three courses in a single, revelatory morning.

Judging from newspaper headlines, the nation’s electoral system often seems in peril with outrageously gerrymandered political districts and disturbing intelligence reports on Russian attempts to shatter public faith in voting. And voter suppression is alive and well these days. In 2016, Texas ranked 47th in electoral turnout. Disgraceful.

Political scientists and politicians disagree vigorously on Texas’ future as a resolutely Republican state, not only because of fast-shifting demographics but the state’s exceedingly poor tradition of voting by at least some population groups. But the Republican Party of Texas does itself no favors in the long term by moving further and further to the extreme right through such narrow-minded, cruel acts as the State Republican Executive Committee’s vote last week to censure Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.

If parents anywhere in Texas are outraged by shifting academic standards, test-oriented instruction, ebbing school funding from the state and what appears to be a push to funnel public money into private schools at all costs, they need to scrutinize lawmakers this key election year.

No one savvy about the embarrassing twists and turns inherent in many civil lawsuits will be surprised by the city of West’s $10.44 million settlement sans trial with defendants linked to the deadly April 2013 fire and explosion at West Fertilizer Co. Speculation is that the defendants — CF Industries, El Dorado Chemical and Adair Grain Inc. — wanted to avoid further public exposure and debate concerning not only the volatile nature of certain chemical fertilizers but arguably less-than-safe storage of such materials at West Fertilizer Co.

Amid all the swirling uncertainties about who’s to blame for shutting down our federal government this past weekend, let us state this much with absolute certainty: If you’re a Republican, you believe in your heart this was a Democratic shutdown. If you’re a Democrat, you believe in your heart this was a Republican shutdown. So it goes.

McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna expressed his familiar contempt for the Tribune-Herald in Thursday’s tooth-and-nail candidate forum with challenger Barry Johnson before the McLennan County Republican Club. In branding the Trib a purveyor of “fake news” and a “ridiculous rag,” he inspired applause from supporters in one part of Knox Hall, stunned silence from Republicans elsewhere. By the time the hour was done, the 45-year-old DA had succeeded only in confirming his sustained lack of accountability to taxpaying voters and reality-based press regarding sworn allegations of corruption.

The void left by Wilton Lanning’s death at age 81 isn’t hard to understand. Civic leader, successful businessman, founding president of the Dr Pepper Museum and W.W. Clements Free Enterprise Institute and regular Trib contributing columnist, Wilton was a genial presence about Waco, mixing with all walks of life, furthering worthy causes big and small and spreading optimism wherever he went. His departure is especially sorrowful because we need his encouragement now more than ever.

Is it possible to have a nuanced opinion about the Robert Mueller investigation into allegations of electoral collusion between the Trump circle and Russians? In today’s political climate, lots of knees are jerking left and right — calls to fire Mueller and demands for invocation of the 25th Amendment to eject President Trump from office as mentally unfit.

Tribune-Herald staff writer Shelly Conlon’s probing Dec. 24 survey of the 2011-12 cost-cutting consolidation of neighborhood schools in Waco Independent School District and whether it set some campuses back academically makes one thing abundantly clear: The option pursued by school officials sure didn’t bolster these schools. Then again, the other obvious option — laying off scores of classroom teachers instead of closing brick-and-mortar campuses where enrollments were flagging — probably wouldn’t have helped, either.

We’ll show some discretion by not identifying the candidate by name or party, but one of those we interviewed as part of the Trib’s public service of publishing Q&As with Republican and Democratic primary election candidates this spring declined to shake hands with us Thursday. Reason: Nothing to do with politics. The candidate had “the bug.” That bit of consideration earned the candidate some points from us right off — no questions asked.

As U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s column today proves, a Republican-led Congress in sometimes shaky partnership with a Republican president has accomplished more than one might initially imagine. This newspaper has supported some of this, including appointment of Neil Gorsuch to a pivotal U.S. Supreme Court vacancy and steady progress on the bipartisan Fix NICS bill to ensure existing gun laws are enforced.

Kudos to the Midway Independent School District board of trustees for setting an example of how at least educators should act when it comes to social media and their young charges. Possibly it’s too much to hope for today, given dramatically shifting political and social norms and morals, but some parents and students would do well to take notice and similarly embrace restraint and civility in what they post online to friend and foe.

Were friend Jeanie Mercer around to opine on her death Friday, we suspect she would find its timing apt — close to Christmas but not so close as to obscure celebration of her savior’s birth. And near enough to the start of a new year, which lays the groundwork for renewal. This is how we recall Jeanie, a member of the Trib Board of Contributors for more than 30 years who championed the daily paper as a vehicle for in-depth news and civil discussion. “I amen some things and argue with others on the opinion page,” she once wrote. She was 84.

The Christmas Eve message at churches in Waco and beyond almost certainly will highlight or incorporate the mystical, enthralling story of Jesus’ birth as the world’s savior. Yet a new Pew Research Center poll finds fewer Americans believe Jesus was born to a virgin, wise men were guided to Jesus by a star or an angel announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds — all key elements of the Christmas story.

If the tax-cut bill headed for President Trump’s desk proves anything, it’s that Republicans are even worse than Democrats in passing major legislation. Whereas Democrats spent a year holding congressional hearings before passing (and without a single Republican vote) the flawed Affordable Care Act of 2010, Republicans spent only a fraction of that time passing (and without a single Democratic vote) their so-called “tax-reform bill.” They held virtually no public hearings on key details of the bill (though some Republicans dispute this) and made a complete mockery of Trump’s claim that this is all about benefiting the middle class — and that it won’t benefit the rich.

Few daily newspapers, big, small or between, are lucky enough to have a lifelong champion such as Ann Roznovsky. Off the clock or on, she was an upbeat, highly visible reminder of not only the importance of an informed and attentive citizenry bolstered by a credible watchdog press but the joyous epiphany that comes when truth is disseminated in a vibrant democracy. Her death Saturday at age 81 reminds us of the steep challenges that remain, both for the Tribune-Herald which she long celebrated and an increasingly bewildered public.

Law enforcement officials nationwide are justified in their anxiety about NRA-backed efforts in Congress to allow anyone licensed to carry a concealed firearm in one state to do so when visiting another state. After all, some states aren’t as discerning as the state of Texas when determining who has enough knowledge, skill and competence to handle a firearm — and those shortcomings could prove disastrous in certain circumstances.

One by one, sworn affidavits by a retired police official and former prosecutors are painting a picture of corruption and politically charged schemes by Abel Reyna during his controversial two terms as McLennan County district attorney. Allegations, and from sources as credible as veteran prosecutor Greg Davis, cover everything from Reyna’s drug use to a pattern of doing political favors for friends and campaign donors, including dropping prosecution cases.

For better or worse, Donald Trump has changed, arguably forever, how we view politics in America. Perhaps even to his credit, the president has made us aware of conflicts of interest in the D.C. “swamp” and among politicians everywhere who conspire to enrich or bestow favors on their families, friends and political donors — a problem, alas, that Trump seems all too complicit in, making him unlikely to be the one who “drains” any swamp of corruption and self-interest. Sad.

In his typically thoughtful, insightful way, local philanthropist and former ambassador Lyndon Olson Jr. added to our understanding of Doris Miller during the unveiling of a statue honoring the hometown hero’s action under fire in the 1941 attack on the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. Olson told of his widowed grandmother, Lillie McLaughlin, living on a Speegleville farm during the Great Depression and how Miller’s father, Conery, without being asked, showed up to help plant cotton for the devastated family. This story of kindness takes on special significance when one remembers racial tensions marking our area during much of the turbulent 20th century. The men who came to the house to help were black. The McLaughlin clan was white.

Ouch. After Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in September the Trump administration would rescind temporary protections for immigrants brought to our country illegally as children, we looked to Congress to do the right thing. We expected lawmakers to ensure that protections for immigrants who grew up knowing only America as their home country were properly enshrined in federal law. Unfortunately, such efforts now seems imperiled.

Given the challenges facing several academically struggling Waco Independent School District campuses, the best news school board members could’ve gotten came last week when Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson revealed that, in the wake of community meetings, the district has seen a spike in volunteers willing to help. To our thinking, this should not only impress others to do likewise but further encourage the partnership Waco ISD has developed with the Texas Education Agency.

During a lively panel discussion on imperiled norms and ethics in the Trump era during the 2017 Texas Tribune Festival, longtime Republican Richard Painter, the no-nonsense ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush White House, was asked if long-established presidential norms and traditions should be codified into law to prevent conflicts of interest, nepotism and other ethical concerns in future presidencies. He practically exploded.

Over the last few weeks, the Trib has put together opinion pages showcasing sharply differing perspectives on the massive tax-reform package racing through Congress to almost certain passage. Yet even as the Senate bill hits the floor for a vote today, confusion reigns supreme over what remains in a bill where tinkering and tweaking continually change its cost and impact, including what it means to certain individuals — hardly healthy for a bill that even Republicans admitted would heap another $1.5 trillion onto the national debt, if not lots more.

Anyone sizing up the tremendous strides made in veterans care and proper celebration of local veterans has only to mark the many pursuits and priorities of Robert “Popeye” Carter. This covers everything from participation in the uphill but ultimately victorious battle to save the then-Waco Veterans Affairs Medical Center from closure, to managing the massive, popular Veterans Day Parade downtown, to helping steer the Veterans One Stop to its present-day success as a welcoming, all-purpose center to assist veterans, whatever the challenge.

We Texans consider ourselves fiercely independent, capable of going it alone, no matter what the calamity or challenge. Now amidst complicated and expensive efforts to restore the storm-battered Texas coast, the gauntlet is being thrown down by the Trump administration — and it’s not going well. It does beg the question: What’s the correct course for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas congressional delegation?

No matter how you happen to feel about President Trump’s policies and pronouncements, even his most avid supporters concede his scathing tweets and unguarded condemnations have aggravated the national dialogue. While one might hope or expect a U.S. president to rally constituents on at least some issues — if only for the sake of his legacy — the Age of Trump has instead left Americans more polarized. We all seem meaner, angrier, less tolerant of one another.

Second Amendment advocates who regularly stress the need to enforce existing gun laws rather than forging new laws should welcome Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s Fix NICS Act, which proposes to do just that. Crafted in the wake of the Nov. 5 Sutherland Springs massacre that claimed the lives of 26 people, coldly struck down as they worshipped in church, this bill would bolster efforts to see federal and state authorities comply with existing laws and accurately report criminal history records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Operating on the theory that there’s no time like the present to address a challenge, Baylor University is commendably stepping up to address a problem gaining more and more attention in society as state demographics and political winds shift. As Trib staff writer Shelly Conlon reports, Baylor’s School of Education is exploring a new undergraduate and graduate program for training bilingual educators — the very sort long cherished in public schools across Texas, including here in McLennan County.

In the criminal justice system, the district attorney has more far-reaching powers than any other figure, given that some 95 percent of felony convictions arise from guilty pleas, resulting in prosecutorial discretion rather than that of judges or juries. Thus it’s critical that whoever occupies the post of district attorney be beyond reproach on all ethical and moral levels. And that’s why the sworn affidavit by one of McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna’s former prosecutors should be exceedingly worrisome to every law-abiding citizen.

The day Dallas Bandidos chieftain Jake Carrizal’s organized crime case went to the jury, the strapping, 35-year-old defendant looked confident, even jovial, joking at one point with his attorneys. Yet in other corners of the courthouse, McLennan County officials looked positively pale, thanks to what just a month of added security expense in connection with the first Twin Peaks trial seemed to portend.

Put aside any ideological differences between Republican Congressman Bill Flores and his predecessor, Democratic Congressman Chet Edwards, and one common priority stands out: veterans. And so it goes with many in Congress — and for good reason: With the generations who fought World War II and Korea passing from our midst and Vietnam veterans aging fast, most of the succeeding generations lack familiarity with the sometimes grim realities of military duty.

While a Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill ringleader told us recently she wouldn’t trust anything Waco’s City Hall said in the ongoing landfill uproar, that’s no reason for city officials and consultants to go blank under close questioning from Waco City Council members today, especially in explaining how collection rates could vary significantly dependent on where the next city-run regional landfill is placed. They must be able to justify rate projections with credible, transparent facts. It follows, too, that council members should bear down hard in their questioning.

The U.S. House Republican tax plan released last week is a lot like Christmas. There are many things to like, such as doubling the standard deduction to $24,000. Most folks use this because they lack enough deductions to itemize or flat don’t have the time to do so. And there’s cause for rejoicing at what’s not in the bill, including a stubborn proposal to cap tax-deferred savings in employee 401(k) plans — wildly inconsistent when Texas Republicans seek to pass a state constitutional amendment to encourage personal saving habits this week and some Capitol Hill Republicans want to overhaul Social Security.

Monday’s Waco Independent School District community meeting in East Waco on contingency plans for five academically struggling campuses at risk of closure saw more friction than a similar gathering a week earlier, but it culminated in a rallying cry by NAACP chapter president Peaches Henry for more commitment by those who volunteer to help. That’s exactly what it’ll take to reverse matters: commitment.

Judging from dueling guest columns in the Trib, at least some disagreement exists about the Waco City Council decision to appoint Deputy City Manager and perennial problem-solver Wiley Stem III successor to City Manager Dale Fisseler, who retires come March. David Littlewood, a McGregor banker, stresses the importance of new blood and new perspectives. He criticizes the council for its “short-sighted strategy, given the city’s potential.” By contrast, LaRaine DuPuy, a community volunteer who has the thankless job of serving on the city’s hard-working Plan Commission, stresses warm gratitude to Stem for agreeing to take the job, given the “vitriol, name-calling, false accusations and hyperbole directed toward him, as well as our current city manager and our mayor.” She describes Stem as an “intelligent, thoughtful, humble man who, unlike his antagonists, does not seek political power or publicity.”

If you need a discouraging example of the growing rift threatening the Republican Party’s long-term future, you need not look to the chaos of Washington. Consider the bombshell Texas House Speaker Joe Straus dropped last week when he announced his decision not to seek another term as a state representative. If you’re a Republican who believes social issues and “family values” from a fundamentally Christian perspective should define the Republican Party and Texas life, you cheered Straus’ announcement. If you’re a Republican who believes that politicians should stay out of our bedrooms and bathrooms and that they should instead help invigorate the business climate, public education and tomorrow’s workforce, you may well be contemplating relocation to another state.

At one point during Monday night’s Waco Independent School District community meeting, a parent rose to stress how she had attended numerous meetings at academically low-performing Alta Vista Elementary School in South Waco and could personally vouch for the efforts there, including those of the teachers. Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson graciously acknowledged the compliment, then quietly noted: “There’s a difference between effort and ability.”

Wacoans are probably just as flummoxed as jurors are at this early point in Bandidos Dallas chapter president Jacob Carrizal’s Twin Peaks organized crime trial. That’s perhaps as it should be for those keeping an open mind about the first trial stemming from the bloody, confused Sunday afternoon shootout at Central Texas Marketplace two and a half years ago. The incident left not only nine dead bikers but disturbing questions about biker culture, crime, law enforcement, Texas justice, even societal perceptions.

Since his very first election in the tea-party tidal wave of 2010, McLennan County Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry has consistently impressed us as a bold leader and consensus builder. Rather than ducking problems or applying bumper-sticker slogans to complicated challenges facing the county and constituents, he routinely has rolled up his sleeves, sounded out his fellow commissioners and constituents for input and offered practical and thoughtful solutions. We strongly recommend Ben Perry be re-elected to a third term on the county commissioners court.

Flashback

What were we talking about one year ago? Take a look back.

Kudos to new Waco Police Chief Ryan Holt for demonstrating the courage, humility and maturity to acknowledge serious mistakes were made in police management of protesters during Gov. Greg Abbott’s Feb. 9 appearance at the McLennan County Republican Party’s Lincoln-Reagan Dinner at Knox Hall of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. Too many people in positions of authority would have cavalierly dismissed protesters’ concerns or sought to marginalize them. Holt did neither.

After months of questions, protest and criticism regarding its role in addressing a plague of sexual assaults, the embattled Baylor University Board of Regents moved Friday to what some might call greater transparency, others might dismiss as mere formalities only hinting at it. Still, in the overarching picture of this sprawling scandal, regents’ vote under alumni pressure to adopt governance reforms at least indicates they recognized the need to do something.