We’ll cede to others any debate over whether Gov. Greg Abbott’s press conference in Waco last week was well-timed electioneering or genuine executive branch business. We agree with his push for statewide bail reform to better protect local and state law enforcement officials. But that’s not enough. Any bail reform undertaken by the Texas Legislature must go further than even Abbott’s outlines and ensure protections for all Texans, including low-income defendants with no history of violent crime.

Amidst the muscular turnout of hundreds of Axtell area residents protesting the July 31 Waco City Council vote to purchase land near Axtell for a possible city-run regional landfill, an Axtell resident asked a Trib editorial board member present why more Waco residents weren’t also outraged over the issue. Our answer may have been discouraging but was at least honest: Many of us in political life simply don’t concern ourselves with such issues till they actually land in our backyard or impact our pocketbook.

Two conflicting arguments exist concerning the new state law requiring letter-grading of public school districts and individual campuses: One holds this more blatant, in-your-face labeling will better shake into awareness and resolve neighborhoods, parents and school boards in ways we haven’t always seen when schools struggle academically. School administrators, however, argue that labeling schools A through F greatly oversimplifies educational complexities and can unfairly malign neighborhoods often hindered by poverty.

Through the latter years of the Obama administration and early Trump years, the American public has collectively questioned how, in the wake of deadly shooting rampages, perpetrators displaying mental and emotional instability approaching derangement nonetheless maintained ready access to firearms. States ranging from largely liberal California to strongly conservative Indiana (home of Vice President Mike Pence) have passed “red-flag laws,” complete with significant due-process protections, providing for court hearings to curtail gun access for anyone displaying physical hostility to others.

At a time when many Americans fear the worst for our environment because of the much-debated scrapping of regulations designed to protect it, one must thank someone at the Environmental Protection Agency and Baylor University for demonstrating otherwise. As Trib staff writer Lauren Dodd reports, local educators have been learning — at times in torrid summer heat — the critical importance of water quality in a week-long program, “Immersed in the Wetlands: An Environmental Academy for Educators.” To which we raise a cool glass of water and cheer.

Psst. Bellmead City Council members, you really shouldn’t have to hold a town-hall meeting just to determine whether your constituents want to hike taxes by two cents to fund reliable fire department service. You were duly elected to demonstrate leadership and make decisions such as this. Given that state law requires yet other, more formal public hearings on the tax rate this very month, you’ll know soon enough if you’re on the right course with your electorate.

By all accounts, tax-cut-o-mania has seized America. The Trump administration is contemplating $100 billion in capital-gains tax cuts, primarily for the very wealthiest — and without congressional approval. Congress is talking about Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 2.0 to make permanent some middle-class tax cuts initially set to expire in several years. Republicans have quit complaining about our spiraling national debt or annual deficits. They’re obviously saving that talk till Democrats regain control.

Trying to be philosophical about a hike of nearly 9 percent in average home values in McLennan County might seem weak medicine indeed for what riles us. Still, after fuming a little over what this jolt might or might not mean in individual property-tax bills, it helps to remember that all of us gain in at least one respect when our property gains in value. That’s one reason we keep watering the lawn. Like much else, we also might experience some pain along the way.

If hardworking farmers and their advocates are any indication, the Trump administration’s $12 billion relief package for farmers imperiled by the president’s devastating, ill-advised trade wars is kindly appreciated but doesn’t negate the fact that, more than anything, American farmers want stable, practical international trade policies — not more government subsidies. After all, one man’s government subsidy is another man’s socialist bailout, an example of government again picking winners and losers and redistributing taxpayer cash.

Although lost in the maddening shuffle of news from Washington and beyond, the revelation half the New York Daily News newsroom staff had been laid off Monday sparked anger and outrage among New Yorkers who pride themselves on being well-informed and see the Daily News as the local paper of record. (The stately New York Times is seen more as a chronicler of the world.) New Yorkers shouldn’t be too surprised: The gutting of newsrooms at mid-sized and large newspapers nationwide has been going on for more than a decade.

Waco Independent School District made history again last week, even beyond its innovative, in-district charter setup designed to prevent state-mandated closure of five academically struggling campuses. Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson revealed that, for the first time, local taxpayers will likely shoulder most of the burden of funding school operations rather than the state of Texas. By many accounts, the state share has been declining for years.

To his credit, Republican Congressman Bill Flores this week released a statement making clear he sided with U.S. intelligence agencies regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election after President Trump’s confounding and apparently fumbled statement to the contrary alongside Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Flores’ statement bears repeating here: “I have personally reviewed the reports of our intelligence agencies’ work regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. I have also reviewed the report issued by the House Intelligence Committee on this subject. I trust the hard work of these groups, which have proven that Russia did in fact meddle in our 2016 elections. Even though the actions of the Russians did not affect the outcome of our election, there is no doubt they did interfere in our election processes. The president should understand that Russia cannot be trusted and that it must be held accountable for its attempted election disruptions against our nation and against our allies.”

If civic-minded locals are expected to know anything about prehistoric behemoths, it’s that the Columbian mammoths that once favored our parts aren’t dinosaurs. Millions of years passed between the last of the great dinosaurs and the ice age in which mammoths flourished. Yet when tourists visited the Waco Mammoth National Monument this past Fourth of July, one asked a familiar question: Which came first, the mammoths or the dinosaurs?

During Hewitt City Manager Adam Miles’ listing of cutbacks made last year to keep the city tax rate steady for 2017-18, he spent some time Monday evening talking about how some crucial training was eliminated to save taxpayer money. That’s too bad because a couple of hours into Monday’s meeting of the Hewitt City Council, it was obvious to the crowd at Hewitt City Hall that many members of the council — if not most — were in sore need of basic training on how to be mindful, ethical and conscientious public servants. A course in decency and manners might help, too.

For all we’ve seen and heard of Baylor University’s forcefully implementing strict protocols to discourage sexual violence involving students, ensuring help for assault victims and changing campus culture, what we’ve seen so far of the scalding June 19 deposition from former Baylor athletics director Ian McCaw takes us straight back to Square One. The only way to put to rest festering questions about what Baylor leadership did or didn’t do in addressing a scourge of sexual assaults on its watch is sworn testimony from key regents, former Baylor leaders and members of the sullied athletic staff. Some champ at the bit to do just that.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, 81, reportedly dislikes the description he’s a “swing vote” on the nation’s highest court, that his vote alone often enough determines whether the liberal or conservative ideological camp wins out on some critical issue. Yet this is his strength as a jurist. To our thinking, you should want a high-minded justice who decides matters of policy and incident based on merits of the case and whether those merits pass constitutional muster.

A few days before Christmas 2016, a month after the most divisive, fact-free presidential election in recent history, a complaint was raised about a Tribune-Herald editorial board member sharing coffee with friends at Panera Bread on State Highway 6. An irate customer complained the journalist was engaging in the “obnoxious trashing of everything conservative.”

Putting aside the inevitable and prickly questions of judicial activism and strict constructionism, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week will almost certainly hike taxes for many of us who shop online. Yet at least in principle Americans should cheer the ruling on the grounds of basic fairness. This decision levels the playing field between major online businesses and brick-and-mortar storefronts when it comes to paying sales taxes.

If politics proves anything, it’s that everyday Americans, for all their education, tend to think in simplistic ways, our ideas for societal solutions often derived from bumper stickers and campaign slogans. The specter of shooters bent on taking out as many of our children, educators and police officers as possible should demand more from us. To our relief, folks who bothered to show up for Waco Independent School District meetings on school violence recognize this. Our compliments.

For those of us who pass by it in the months and years to come, the abandoned, 14-acre Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center campus in North Waco will stand as an enduring monument to cheap talk by state leaders when it comes to mental health. Every time a tragedy erupts involving someone who obviously has mental-health issues — mass shootings are common examples these days — a hue and cry goes up among lawmakers that government and society must aggressively expand access to improved mental-health treatment. And some of us take them seriously.

Flag Day 2018 finds the United States of America anything but united. Our nation is in tatters. Gone are the days when our presidents — whether George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Delano Roosevelt — stressed if not demanded unity of citizens and appreciation of our social, cultural and political differences. Instead, today’s leaders in the White House, Congress and the Statehouse play on our many differences — and then smugly wrap themselves in the American flag as patriots.

Anyone who reads this newspaper knows we have vigorously opposed voter suppression in all its many ugly guises. We repeatedly opposed the state’s 2011 voter photo ID law as racially discriminatory, a conclusion eventually shared by the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — twice. We have condemned gerrymandering as corrupt whether Democrats or Republicans practice it. But as more states contemplate laws updating voter rolls, we add this: At some point, non-voters must accept responsibility for their failure to act.

One of the joys of the Tribune-Herald staff and, we hope, our readership comes in highlighting innovative ways to do more good in this community and beyond. While watchdog reporting remains the Trib’s priority, how can we not relish giving space, for instance, to the resourcefulness locally and nationally to help place abandoned and unwanted dogs with appreciative and loving owners, no matter where they live? Trib staffer Cassie L. Smith’s Friday story about a 2-year-old pit bull terrier languishing on the Humane Society of Central Texas’ urgent adoption list for months and the angel who transported Millie to a pit-lover in Iowa shows that, in our age of political and social polarization, not all is lost. Not so long as dogs are around.

For all the factors contributing to Baylor University’s tortuous saga involving student sexual assaults, the Sam Ukwuachu case remains the powder keg that blasted it onto the national scene in late summer 2015. This came partially through Trib coverage but arguably more so through a Texas Monthly investigative piece given wide distribution. Considering some of the irregularities that marked the trial, it’s no wonder the case still confounds.

A familiar saying holds that those of us who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. Yet this argument pivots heavily on what we learn and how rigorously we internalize those lessons. For instance, what have we learned from D-Day, the massive Allied invasion 74 years ago that marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany and the liberation of Europe at the cost of some 10,000 Allied troops killed, wounded or missing in action that day?

For years, establishments operating at the present-day site of Magnolia Table sold T-shirts acknowledging the challenges of the notorious traffic circle out front and allowing the wearer to boldly claim “I Survived the Circle.” Now that the best and brightest of the Texas Department of Transportation and City of Waco have collaborated on striping the circle to make it safer, it may well be time to bulk up on a new shipment of those T-shirts.

Whatever your thoughts on gun control, the Second Amendment and the deadly mass shootings that increasingly characterize our tumultuous times, some credit should go to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Last week this Republican champion of gun rights dared to hold meetings with law enforcement authorities, state and federal lawmakers (not all of them from his political party), Second Amendment advocates and survivors of the May 18 shooting rampage at Santa Fe High School. This required more courage than we ordinarily see in politicians financially beholden to the National Rifle Association.

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.

However one feels about his candidacy, one must feel at least some sympathy for Barry Johnson, Republican candidate for district attorney in what has to be one of the strangest county-wide races we’ve seen in years. After all, the Democratic candidate for the position, we are repeatedly told, has only suspended his campaign. Yet serious voters are right to wonder some five and a half months from Election Day: Is he in this race or out?

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, sometimes compared to President Trump in brash persona, remarked Monday that the president will indeed rate a Nobel Peace Prize if “he can fix North Korea and if he can fix the Iran nuclear deal.” Given the vehemence with which Trump condemned the 2015 Iran pact as he announced the United States’ withdrawal from it this week, one only hopes his newly assembled diplomacy team is up to the complex challenges.

Last Saturday West residents voted down a proposed $20 million bond issue to construct a new, larger West Elementary School, a development that, at least on the surface, doesn’t make sense when one considers the valiant struggle of this resilient community to rebuild after a deadly ammonium nitrate blast leveled or heavily damaged much of West five years ago. Only weeks before the school election, town leaders were taking a well-deserved victory lap, leading anniversary celebrations of the amazing progress made since the explosion.

Last month in these pages, McLennan County Veterans Service Officer Steve Hernandez hit the public alarm button concerning not only plans to relocate the Post-Traumatic Residential Rehabilitation Program (PRRP) from Doris Miller Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Waco to VA facilities in Temple but the possibility VA officials contemplate another run at shuttering the local medical center, as they did more than a decade ago. Hernandez noted how, after much debate over moving PRRP in 2016, the decision was made to keep it in Waco. Now its future here seems fluid at best, though Republican Congressman Bill Flores is fighting the move. We’ll see how that works out.

With respects to our well-intentioned friend Bobbyee Oliver on this page, we must acknowledge increasing reservations about the National Day of Prayer as practiced on Capitol Hill in recent years. Lawmakers have too often proven the National Day of Prayer is more political prop than principle. Example: Congress’ continued dithering on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era immigration program that allows some individuals brought to the United States illegally as children to not only delay possible deportation but also become eligible for work permits in our country.

As a rule, the Trib leaves ribbon-cuttings and store openings to others such as the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, but today we make an exception: We heartily welcome Dick’s Sporting Goods on occasion of its grand opening in Waco this past weekend. Even before it opened locally, the company set a fine example of being a good corporate neighbor, bowing to polls consistently showing that overwhelming numbers of Americans really do question sales of what are commonly referred to as “assault weapons.”

If the long, winding and extraordinarily complicated saga of Texas’ 2011 voter ID law is ever fully laid down, its telling will be further muddied by outright ignorance and devious political manipulation of the worst kind. This includes all those who supported this odious law by insisting (and possibly in all sincerity), “Why, what’s so wrong with having to show a photo ID at the polls?”

It’s Precinct 2 McLennan County Commissioner Lester Gibson’s tragic fate that, after a long and remarkable career in public service, he winds up his final year in office as an example of political “whataboutism.” If examples we’ve seen everywhere from Facebook to the McLennan County Republican Club are any indication, his failings are regularly, even gleefully, trotted out to excuse other politicians of misbehavior, bad policy and cheap shots.

Never in our history have so many Americans, regardless of their place on the political spectrum, voiced so much concern about the right to vote being impeded or votes themselves being rendered irrelevant. Given everything from slyly crafted voter ID laws obviously intended to suppress minorities to foreign campaigns to undermine confidence in our democratic processes, the outrage is understandable. Yet, year after year, many elections attract only a small percentage of eligible voters.

Republican Congressman Bill Flores has announced another series of town-hall meetings that, strictly speaking, aren’t town-hall meetings at all but essentially Facebook video chats, complete with telephone and email access. While we don’t deny such formats bolster accessibility for shut-ins as well as folks living in rural stretches who can’t always drive to the larger towns where real town-hall meetings were once held, such formats short-circuit vital, face-to-face encounters where constituents give their congressman bits and pieces of their pent-up minds — pro and con, left and right, Republican and Democrat, good and bad.

Of anecdotes told during Tuesday evening’s service marking the fifth anniversary of the ammonium nitrate explosion that killed 15 people, injured hundreds more and blew part of West off the map, none proved more telling than that offered by civic leader John Crowder. Three schools in West ISD were lost in the earthshaking blast, he said. Yet when the new week began just days later, local students were pursuing their studies, notwithstanding all the death, destruction and uncertainty then smoldering about them.

Of all the disturbing images of the 51-day FBI siege of the Branch Davidian complex 10 miles east of Waco, few convey the tragedy better than searing photographs of the place in flames amid a tank and tear-gas assault 25 years ago today. For those in the know, these images make people wince, turn away, shake their heads. Such images represent, after all, the awful coming together of dynamics contributing to a colossal loss of life that day (at least 76 people, many of them children, claimed by flames, smoke and gunfire reportedly originating with the Davidians themselves) and even earlier in the spectacularly botched Feb. 28, 1993, raid by federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents (four agents and six Davidians dead). But where to start in any retrospective analysis? Equally important: Do the dynamics of 25 years ago have contemporary parallels that compel us to question what’s happening all around us today? Dare we ask?

No time of year more than spring reveals how picky we McLennan Countians can be on what past local events rate historical and societal reflection. Many folks — especially those past a certain age — are happy to revel in a milestone anniversary of the May 11, 1953, tornado striking Waco. While the tornado left 114 dead and much of our city in ruins, the incident nearly 65 years ago is punctuated by rousing anecdotes of sacrifice, heroism and unity. Themes of rescue, renewal and rebuilding run rampant. And it’s not like anyone “caused” the killer tornado.

The Tribune-Herald was one of the very first newspapers in the nation to endorse Republican Congressman Paul Ryan when he was announced as the bottom-half of the Republican presidential ticket in 2012. Our editorial proclaimed that his presence on the team “guarantees the Republican campaign will focus on issues instead of the demagoguery and sound bites that now characterize both campaigns.” His involvement in the Mitt Romney campaign, we said, would “prompt vivid discussion about concerns the tea party first raised three years ago.”

Outrage, skepticism and, perhaps more than anything, confusion have festered lately in normally peaceful Woodway over questions of sexual harassment involving a once largely unquestioned city leader. The matter culminated when Yost Zakhary, who has long led the city as both public safety director and city manager, offered to resign from the latter post after earlier agreeing to leave the former.

From a business perspective, the empire launched by Waco-based reality TV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines demonstrates smarts, foresight and entrepreneural daring. Even as their home-renovation series ended last week (reruns continue), the couple has charted well beyond it, maintaining the insanely popular Magnolia Market at the Silos, overhauling and reopening the Elite Cafe as Magnolia Table, producing a handsome home furnishings magazine and plenty else. To our thinking, their example vividly bolsters the case for proper expansion of Cameron Park Zoo.

Many Americans’ preference for President Trump is based on an image he carefully cultivated as a decisive, studied corporate titan with useful insights into the qualities that make up a good management team plus a keen regard for all that unbridled capitalism can do. In the past year, this image has taken some lumps on the first point, given the number of people he has hired with great pomp, then thrown under the bus without so much as a parting “You’re fired!”

Flashback

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

When it comes to eclipses of the sun, 2024 is clearly our year. According to NASA projections, Waco will be smack-dab in the middle of a narrow band across much of the United States where folks can behold a total eclipse. While totality will last but a couple of minutes, the spectacle will be enough to prompt a healthy respect for our truly inconsequential place in the heavens. It also guarantees you visits from relatives you see even less than solar eclipses.

In the Texas Legislature’s summertime march to crush local governance, state Sen. Brandon Creighton’s bill to block removal of Confederate statues appears belly-up as the special session now seems to have ended prematurely. Filed midway through the session, it obviously sought to play to far-right passions of those who champion what others see as a treasonous rebellion bent on keeping black people in chains for generations to come.

Given the Aug. 5 death of former Texas Gov. Mark White, the many eulogies praising his rare leadership and his final fight for accountability and transparency on the part of leadership at his alma mater, one can’t help noting the irony of Friday’s ruling by a federal judge involving White’s beloved Baylor University. The court ordered Baylor to furnish local attorney Jim Dunnam with notes, recordings and other relevant information from the controversial Pepper Hamilton investigation that reportedly uncovered administrative indifference regarding sexual assaults involving Baylor students.