Political curmudgeons might well grouse that local attorney Pat Atkins should have completely fixed Waco Independent School District by now, given his 17 years on the Waco ISD board of trustees, including nine years as board president. Such cynics fail to realize that applying intelligent so…
When contemplating where we’re going in life during the massive and intricate improvement and expansion of Interstate 35 through Waco, it’s best to internalize that line from “The Outer Limits,” the 1960s sci-fi anthology: “You are about to participate in a great adventure.” Indeed. Before all is dusted and done, you’ll see all streams of traffic temporarily occupy one snarling side of the interstate. You’ll see lanes both ways increase from three to four. You’ll see the familiar 11th/12th Street overpass one day become an underpass. You’ll see the Eighth Street pedestrian bridge so popular with Baylor University students hoofing it to Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and Panera Bread disappear overnight, certainly by the time students reassemble in August. You’ll see continuous frontage roads. And you’ll spend part of your time in traffic, possibly backed up, if you don’t find alternate routes and stay updated via daily email alerts from the Texas Department of Transportation’s Waco District. Yes, indeed.
We were sorely tempted to suggest voting out your state legislators if the Texas Legislature didn’t take steps this session to address the one state-run snafu many of us personally encounter now and then: getting your driver’s license renewed in person. However, the optimist in us prevailed in January, given the seeming resolve of legislators to take action. Now, with the session’s May 27 deadline looming, there’s dwindling reason for such optimism.
If any priority this legislative session highlights the risk of too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen, it’s bail reform, originally to be crafted with two key purposes in mind: First, to address growing societal inequality by ensuring that poor folks don’t cool their heels in jail on minor charges while the more economically blessed among us buy their way out of any wait behind bars. Second, to ensure that greater weight is given to whether the accused has a violent history before allowing his or her release on bail.
Given that this newspaper vigorously condemned Democrats and their mad scramble to embrace slavery reparations for African Americans last month, turnabout is surely fair play: Republican state Sen. Brandon Creighton’s bill regulating the removal of historical monuments statewide — first crafted amid a national resurgence of white supremacy and racial unrest in summer 2017 — is a charade to safeguard monuments glorifying individuals who in their own words fought to keep in bondage African Americans. Anyone who suggests otherwise is lying to himself and others.
When it comes to state legislation, nothing is dead till the proverbial fat lady sings — and in this case, she doesn’t sing till May 27 — and then, of course, there’s still the chance of a special legislative session. Even so, this week’s failure of a proposed one-cent sales-tax hike advocated by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen underlines one truism: Neither Republicans nor Democrats stand ready to do the heavy lifting required for genuine, lasting property-tax relief.
Americans crestfallen by years of gridlock and misinformation regarding immigration plus President Trump’s hamfisted, on-again/off-again border policies should find some encouragement in a rare bipartisan bill emerging from all the chaos and conflict: Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Laredo propose requiring the Department of Homeland Security to keep immigrant families together during court proceedings; mandating additional standards of care for families held in DHS facilities; and allowing unaccompanied children from non-contiguous countries to be voluntarily reunited with families in their home country. All these proposals are recommended by the bipartisan Homeland Security Advisory Council.
Here in America, we talk plenty of learning from history but show very little evidence of it. Exhibit A: The Trump administration’s decision to relax regulations designed to prevent a repeat of the horrendous BP Deepwater Horizon oil-platform explosion that left 11 workers dead, released 4 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, killed a million sea birds and more than 150 whales and dolphins and devastated coastal tourism and fishing industries.
If any issue percolating in the Legislature illustrates the great divide between a radicalized, know-nothing Texas Senate and more generally representative Texas House, it’s Rep. Joe Moody’s bill that, while hardly decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, sure reduces the unnecessarily punitive consequences. In doing so, his bill proposes to work hand in hand with visionary legislation to keep non-violent offenders out of our courts and jails. It’s smart legislation that, unfortunately, Lt. Rev. Dan Patrick has declared DOA in the Texas Senate. We’ll see about that.
Careful research is wise before donating money to any compelling cause. But in the case of the Doris Miller Memorial erected in downtown Waco along the Brazos, the hard work is done. The Waco Foundation, Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation and Cooper Foundation have not only closely scrutinized Cultural Arts of Waco fundraising books (and in the presence of a Trib editorial board member) but redoubled their joint effort to ensure fundraising crosses the finish line for this rousing tribute to the Greatest Generation as well as foundational ideas and values born a century and a half earlier.
We could have predicted public reaction when the Baylor Lady Bears accepted an invitation from President Trump to visit the White House in recognition of the team’s 2019 NCAA women’s championship. Many who adore this unorthodox president cheered the visit, set for Monday. Others harboring deep reservations about the norm-busting chief executive suggested the team, individually or jointly, spurn the invitation to send a message about the president’s rhetoric and behavior.
The much-anticipated dedication of the City of West Fallen Heroes Memorial Saturday offered much worthy of praise, including an appropriate speech about sacrifice, loss and resilience by Gov. Greg Abbott, complete with admiration for “the remarkable work the people of West have done to rebuild this community.” But the centerpiece was quite obviously missing. Because of thunderstorms, this engaging hometown memorial — complete with informatively written individual tributes to those who perished in the West Fertilizer Company ammonium nitrate explosion of April 17, 2013 — could be conjured indoors only through a hastily but astonishingly well-produced video of the memorial, complete with scene-setting drone footage, by West videographer Ben Ranzinger.
Last Sunday this newspaper criticized the mad scramble by Democratic presidential contenders to further stir America’s bubbling racial cauldron by embracing reparations in recognition of injustices committed against African Americans over our nation’s long and arduous history. By the same standard, we now condemn the racial provocation pursued by state legislators seeking to undermine communities reconsidering certain monuments erected long ago and celebrating causes neither constitutional in principle nor respectful of human rights, let alone common decency.
Clues you’re dealing with a gun nut: He often sees himself as a latter-day patriot and imagines this fact excuses extremist behavior and irrational statements. Sometimes this works. Sometimes not. It didn’t work for those pressing already questionable legislation to make Texas a “constitutional-carry” state, ending concealed-carry licensing requirements and scuttling government permission to carry a concealed firearm.
By almost any objective measure, President Trump is experiencing a policy meltdown. In recent days he has flipflopped like a freshly landed fish on his vow to close the entire U.S.-Mexico border (which initially prompted protest from even diehard Trump supporter Ted Cruz of Texas); his agreement that the full Mueller report should be released for the public to judge; his latest insistence on a prompt Republican overhaul of Obamacare; and even his nomination of who should lead the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (he yanked the guy he put forward). Trump is the very definition of the word “erratic.” And his supporters love it.
Despite low expectations just six months ago, state legislators this week demonstrated they’re actually capable of reaching consensus on pivotal issues. Texas House members Wednesday almost unanimously approved a major school finance bill that hikes per-pupil funding, funds pre-kindergarten for poor students, reduces the much-hated “Robin Hood” school-revenue redistribution scheme and whittles away school district tax rates by at least four cents.
On occasion of President Trump’s ongoing “Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War,” we devoted our entire opinion page on Friday’s prescribed anniversary date to “Report to a Sleeping Son,” a searing 1969 column by late, Waco-based author and Baylor University alumnus Alton L. Dewlen regarding grief and anguish in the wake of his son’s 1968 death in combat during the Vietnam War. It’s a powerful piece demonstrating not only the shock and loss of a remote battlefield death but also anger at a society and political state at times at odds with such sacrifices.
Scratch as premature our praise about state leaders taking the high road and shelving the divisive, mean-spirited, discriminatory policies that so tarnished the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature. Legislators — especially in the Senate — simply can’t help themselves. Senate Bill 15 seemed reasonable to us when first submitted, prohibiting cities from forcing businesses within their jurisdictions to provide paid sick leave policies. We’re all for local control but city ordinances such as this strike us as a bridge too far, an intrusion on private business operations. Then Sen. Brandon Creighton’s SB 15 somehow got rewritten to imperil local nondiscrimination ordinances. Given the context of the last session, it wasn’t much of a stretch to conclude this was another move by Lt. Rev. Dan Patrick and his allies to attack the LGBT community. A perfectly legitimate bill now ruined.
Based on a mere four-page summary, Trump campaign officials now vow to use the concluded Mueller report to hammer the credibility and trustworthiness of Democratic candidates through 2020. Democrats express outrage at the Mueller findings and promise to redouble House committee investigations into Trump’s orbit. And the president insists he’s been exonerated.
Liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, most state legislators consistently demonstrate dedication to governmental transparency, something informed taxpayers should appreciate and celebrate. To that end, let’s cheer the Texas House of Representatives for unanimously approving a bill last week requiring governmental entities to disclose certain information about concerts, parades and other entertainment when funded wholly or partially with taxpayer money.
The Waco Independent School District board of trustees is no doubt as conflicted over the arrest and brief incarceration of Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson as our community is. After hearing public comments from individuals on both sides of the debate — some pleading for punitive measures but not expulsion, a couple insisting that no other option exists beyond firing the superintendent — trustees deliberated more than four hours Tuesday before breaking to continue later.
The unwillingness of Americans to even consider compromise on the hot-button issue of immigration is tearing our nation apart. Many on the left vigorously oppose scuttling reunification of families as a primary justification for granting immigration. Many on the right condemn what they call “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, even when punitive measures are clearly applied. One group is so maniacal lately it has signaled a willingness to throw the U.S. Constitution under the bus to fund a border wall.
For the two U.S. senators representing Texas and the Republican congressmen representing Central Texas who for nearly a decade have drawn pocket Constitutions to sermonize to the press and the people about the almighty importance of Article I and the wisdom of separation of powers, the jig is up. When a Democrat one day occupies the presidency and invokes emergency powers to also subvert Congress’ power of the purse, these lawmakers will have forfeited any right to cite the Constitution in outrage. They have violated their oaths of office.
For more than a week, our community has mulled the awful predicament facing a school superintendent who by all accounts has successfully rallied educators, parents and students in reversing academic decline in Waco Independent School District, especially in struggling neighborhoods mired in generations of poverty. In an age when Americans seem much more selective in their views of administering justice, Dr. A. Marcus Nelson’s arrest and brief jailing in nearby Robertson County on a misdemeanor marijuana charge has sharply divided Wacoans.
One of the intriguing, all-too-familiar stories about eminent domain, possibly apocryphal, involves the outraged landowner who during a formal meeting complains how an oil and gas pipeline company has run roughshod over his property rights to lay pipeline across his land — only for an oil and gas lobbyist also present to echo this outrage, barking: “That’s terrible! Which pipeline company was it? We’ll speak to them about this!”
If the case of Estela Fajardo offers any tragic irony beyond the fact she spent some three years behind bars before being tried, it’s that she has seemed to confirm arguments of both local immigration advocates and anti-immigration forces. In the pro-immigration camp, she at times epitomized the successful immigrant, even one undocumented for more than 30 years. She owned property, ran businesses, even maintained a cattle spread in Lorena.
Given the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre of 2012 and the Douglas High School shooting spree last year, it’s unfortunate it took a slaughter in Texas before state leaders took campus shootings more seriously. While issues of gun violence remain, state legislation now filed suggests help is on the way for educators and pupils. Senate Bill 11, for instance, would provide for “hardening” of campuses so they’re more impregnable; establish “threat assessment teams” to better gauge viable student threats; and expand emergency response training for district employees.
Big, small or in between, even the best daily newspapers are often dismissed as journalistic practitioners without honor in the towns they serve, a likely consequence of overly honest, warts-and-all reporting or maybe the paper’s winding up in the bushes too often. Yet studies suggest towns without newspapers — an increasing phenomenon across America — eventually degenerate into soulless settings ripe for corruption and incompetence by emboldened public officials. And when honors are bestowed on local individuals for jobs well done, they lack legitimacy without a newspaper to acknowledge the good done among us.
For those of us long at the Trib who know, respect and admire longtime civic leader, education crusader and business leader Virginia DuPuy, there’s a wonderful anecdote involving her battling federal efforts to close or downsize what was then the Waco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. DuPuy dutifully joined scores of fellow Wacoans and veterans at the Waco Convention Center in May 2005 to offer a testimonial to a commission soliciting input on the proposal. Each person was limited to three minutes.
Texas’ highest courts clearly have a problem with state transparency laws and ensuring the watchdog press and taxpaying public can see not only what elected leaders are doing but how they’re spending our hard-earned tax dollars. The latest burst of judicial activism comes from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals which Wednesday handed down a decision sabotaging a key section of the Texas Open Meetings Act. In doing so, the court provides cover to elected officials “meeting” in so-called “walking quorums” out of the earshot of unsuspecting constituents.
When a bipartisan bill in the Texas Legislature attracts criticism from both the right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation and left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, one of two things is sure: Either you have a really bad bill in the works or a really good bill. In this case, we find the bill funding a $5,000 pay hike for public and charter school teachers a good one, even as we concede some of the quibbles aired during Monday’s Texas Senate Finance Committee hearing and unanimous vote.
One thing about political principles: Most of us believe we have them inscribed on our undying souls till some circumstance proves us two-faced. Many Republican lawmakers now face their supreme test as a president of their own party attempts to circumvent Congress’ constitutional power of the purse to snare billions of dollars in border wall funding. For two years, Congress under Republican and Democratic control has declined to approve such border wall funding. Now the president has declared the U.S.-Mexico border a “national emergency” to siphon off funds originally allocated for military construction and anti-drug trafficking efforts.
This week’s 2-3 split vote by the McLennan County Commissioners Court on whether the county’s four precinct-based road-and-bridge crews should merge into a single, cost-saving countywide department clearly left bad feelings. Republican County Judge Scott Felton’s ire is understandable, given that as commissioners dither and dicker over a way to streamline county services and save taxpayer dollars, legislators in Austin blame Texas counties for fiscal irresponsibility and forge ways to clamp down on the property-tax revenue on which these counties depend.
By even the most modest ethical standards, and if only for appearance’s sake, you might expect that newly elected Republican state Sen. Angela Paxton, wife of ethically compromised State Attorney General Ken Paxton, would have enough common sense to keep at arm’s length any legal or legislative matters involving her husband, especially the allegations he violated state securities law. Yet Friday she filed a bill to empower her husband in his official capacity to decide who can skirt state securities law — which pretty much captures what he’s alleged to have done.
Pardon us if we don’t buy President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border as justification to bypass Congress to fund his border wall. A year ago this month, this newspaper vigorously backed a plan touted by Trump that would have yielded a whopping $25 billion in border-wall construction, only for the president to flip-flop on us and abandon his plan because he decided he wanted more in the deal. Emergency? Obviously not.
Texas Secretary of State David Whitley’s press release last month contending that 95,000 non-U.S. citizens with driver’s licenses or ID cards also had voter registration records in Texas — and that some 58,000 had voted in at least one election — has by now proven one of the most botched debuts of any state official in recent memory. To compound matters, in last week’s Senate confirmation hearing, the interim secretary displayed stunning ignorance about matters he should have definitively nailed down, given the certainty of state senators’ questions.
Advocates seeking to shift city of Waco municipal operations to 100 percent renewable energy in the near future may voice frustration at the pace of change, but last week’s meeting of the Sustainable Resources Practices Advisory Board should hearten all, given the discouraging tone of January’s meeting. The worthy topic of renewable energy last month became entangled amid discussions of protocol and propriety involving a formal board recommendation to the Waco City Council.
Bipartisan bail-reform legislation introduced in the Texas Legislature offers two worthy provisions all of us should get behind: First, it addresses growing societal inequality and, specifically, poor folks who cool their heels in jail on minor charges while the more economically blessed among us buy their way out of any wait behind bars. Second, this legislation takes into greater account whether the accused has a violent history before allowing his or her release. You might well think: How can such legislation lose?
Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht’s call to arms in Wednesday’s State of the Judiciary address about partisanship tainting the state judiciary is hardly new. Even Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, one of the most partisan politicians in Texas, has raised legitimate concerns about constituents voting onto the bench individuals whose chief asset is they have been good and faithful members of one political party or the other. Yet Hecht’s brief call for merit selection and nonpartisan retention election of Texas judges comes after a blue wave transformed much of the judiciary last fall.
Except for when partisanship fogs our glasses, most of us embrace the idea of rule of law. We agree it’s vital to keep us from descending into anarchy and tyranny. We generally agree no one should be above law’s reach. Problem is many of us don’t know much about state and federal laws. We have only fleeting insight into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Happily, Baylor University and its stellar law school offer occasional opportunities at some enlightenment — and very often for little to no cost.
When pressed about state leaders’ concerted effort to legislate tighter revenue caps on cities, counties and school districts, Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver expressed not only grave disappointment but the fact local control has long been championed as a conservative tenet, a principle that invests faith and trust in that level of governance closest to the people. Not anymore. Your father’s conservatism has degenerated into something very different. State leaders today find it politically convenient to vilify town councils, county government and school boards across Texas for problems that, ironically, state leaders helped create.
If Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has any self-respect, he should be shaking his head in embarrassment. His December appointee as Texas secretary of state, David Whitley, has clearly presided over not-ready-for-primetime shenanigans involving discovery that “approximately 95,000 individuals identified by [the Texas Department of Public Safety] as non-U.S. citizens have a matching voter registration record in Texas, approximately 58,000 of whom have voted in one or more Texas elections.” Since making this widely disseminated announcement on Friday, Whitley’s office has been quietly walking back the claims.
Most of us don’t come face to face with state government except on two occasions: We’re stopped by a highway trooper for speeding or neglecting to use our seat belt or we go to the local Department of Public Safety outpost to obtain or renew our driver’s license. Getting ticketed on a roadside can sting financially, but spending hours waiting to get a clerk at a driver license office that never seems fully staffed can leave one feeling abused and angry at our almighty state government.
Considering how easily businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump outmaneuvered U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in combative primary elections to win the Republican nomination for president in 2016, one might have hoped Trump studied more closely the senator’s earlier political failures so he could smartly avoid them himself. By now it’s pretty clear he didn’t scrutinize the astonishment if not anger that many Capitol Hill Republicans had when in 2013 tea party Republican Cruz briefly shut down the federal government over Affordable Care Act funding without a political exit strategy. In the end, the Republican Party got blamed for the mess. And Republicans in turn blamed Cruz’s self-indulgence and ego.
Texas has long been deferential to the business sector. So what, you might ask, could possibly go wrong when a group of savvy business proprietors along Waco’s historic La Salle Avenue resolve to capitalize on the presence of former HGTV mega-stars Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Table eatery on the adjoining traffic circle; approach city leaders with a plan to permit only certain sorts of businesses on La Salle going forward (and with certain architectural standards); and City Hall actually takes them seriously? We saw the answer on Tuesday: Other proprietors along La Salle voiced fears of how such an overlay district might impact their future.
For more than an hour, discussion of ways to reduce municipal reliance on fossil fuels gave way to tedious wrangling over protocols and procedures.
One complaint of many Texans concerns the corrupting access and influence certain lobbyists with deep pockets enjoy with lawmakers. In fact, politicians on the campaign trail like to rail about the supposed evils of lobbyists. It’s an easy applause line. So what then to make of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s decision (or that of his proxies) to give a Texas Senate press pass to the right-wing lobbying group Empower Texans? Colossally poor judgment? Or something more insidious?
Waco City Councilwoman Andrea Jackson Barefield’s first town-hall meeting for constituents residing in East Waco and other parts of District 1 was different in tone and protocol than fellow council member Dillon Meek’s very successful town-hall gathering last month in North Waco — and no less worthy of celebrating at a time when state and federal officials balk at such gatherings out of fear of community hostility. Barefield found fewer questions posed than Meek but offered a robust presentation of how City Hall is working for constituents, complete with informative mini-reports from city officials involving such critical needs as street and sewer repairs.
In an age when misinformation and outright lies invite gullibility daily, let’s be grateful for those increasingly rare occasions when truth does triumph. Last Friday, the State Preservation Board unanimously voted to remove a controversial, wildly misleading “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque from the State Capitol. For nearly 60 years, it has informed Capitol visitors that, no, slavery was not the cause of the Civil War in which some 620,000 Americans from both the Union and Confederacy perished.
In Wednesday’s Tribune-Herald, we published a letter from a San Antonio resident with clear pro-wall sympathies. He proposed a border-security compromise: funding for a wall along the United States’ southern border; a pathway to citizenship for the so-called “Dreamers” (or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applicants) but not the parents who brought them across the border illegally; and a requirement all employers use E-Verify, complete with seriously punitive consequences for all caught knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, whether those employers are farmers, construction contractors or high-tech firms. Like this plan or not, the letter writer at least offered a compromise. Good for him.
The 86th Texas Legislature gaveled into session Tuesday. Dare we hope this is one session conducted by grownup legislators with grownup priorities, free of such distracting right-wing nonsense as the bathroom bill of 2017? Most talk suggests the interwoven issues of property-tax reform and school finance are top priorities this time around. Relief from Hurricane Harvey will also demand state cash as well as, we hope, some smarts on how to prevent further disaster. And there’s Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s promise to hike teacher pay by an average of $10,000. We’re eager to see how this is done without heaping more unfunded mandates on school districts.
Political curmudgeons might well grouse that local attorney Pat Atkins should have completely fixed Waco Independent School District by now, given his 17 years on the Waco ISD board of trustees, including nine years as board president. Such cynics fail to realize that applying intelligent solutions is difficult when dynamics are always shifting, always raising new challenges and headaches — everything from losing an enormously promising and popular superintendent (for a minor, roadside pot arrest) to trying to prevent scores of teacher layoffs during a nationwide recession that instead shuttered schools (and with some of the public consequently and ignorantly blaming the school board rather than our state lawmakers who cut $5.4 billion from public education funding in 2011).
Besides opposition to Obamacare, just what is the conservative agenda in health care? Good question. Only two issues regularly get public attention on that part of the political dial: gun rights and abortion. And when it comes to sanctity of life, principles clash.
As the age profile of Republican voters has risen, a certain note of complaint about young people has become a more prominent part of conservative conversation: Why are millennials so entitled and socialist? Maybe they should quit buying so much avocado toast and pay down their student loans instead.
What were we talking about one year ago? Take a look back.
In what may well be a microcosm of our times, the Hewitt City Council opened its meeting Monday night with a plea that all assembled keep military personnel in faraway war zones in mind because “they’re the reason we can meet like this in a free country.” That done, the meeting erupted into furor over everything from allegedly defaming civil servants to a romantic affair that isn’t quite so scandalous to that most combustible signpost of all — Facebook indiscretions.
Thoughts and prayers? Why, sure. Bring ’em on, state and federal officials. Prayers for the dear, departed souls of yet more students and teachers shot dead at a school a little closer to home than the one in Parkland, Florida, home of all those annoying, so-called “soulless” students who dared to voice outrage about shooting rampages. Prayers, too, to the grieving families.
Longtime McLennan Community College softball coach Manuel Ordones has declined to speak of his May 2 resignation amidst allegations of impropriety, but his many fans haven’t been so quiet. On the Trib Facebook page and in letters to the newspaper, some say nine students on the MCC softball team forced Ordones’ resignation over childish concerns regarding playing time and team discipline — and not inappropriate comments and actions he allegedly made or took.
There’s quiet irony in the fact Andrea Jackson Barefield will join the Waco City Council just two days after Mother’s Day, given the fact her mother represented a powerful presence not only on the council but also in our city. Annals show Mae Jackson was our town’s first popularly elected black mayor, but she was far more than that.