- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Waco Tribune-Herald. Jan. 21, 2017.

Two days before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, MSNBC’s indomitable Chris Matthews asked Trump surrogate Steve Cortes about the political wisdom of Trump’s tweet-storm condemning civil rights icon John Lewis, which only further aggravated racial tensions. Cortes explained that, whatever else, Trump voters relish Trump’s combativeness:

“The reason people rallied to his fierceness (on the 2016 campaign trail) is because we have a rigged crony system right now which works very well for the people over in Davos (site of moneyed elites gathered for the World Economic Forum), it works very well for Washington, D.C.,” he said. “It’s not working for Dayton, it’s not working for Waco, Texas.”

Fair point. We’ll take that as an invitation from President Trump to highlight at least some of what’s important in Waco, Texas, assuming he’s really interested:

- Poverty remains a massive problem for nearly a third of us, maybe more. We’re not just talking about homeless people but folks who have jobs, yet remain one paycheck from economic ruin, including getting bounced from their lodgings. To the surprise of very few economists, trickle-down economics have failed millions of Americans. What else do you have up your sleeve, Mr. President? Is it time to talk of raising the minimum wage? How about some form of job subsidies? Can you use your considerable clout to shame employers into doing better by their employees?

- Given the reports of backlogged claims snarling the Waco Veteran Affairs Regional Office a few years ago or the bungled rollout of the Affordable Care Act, our folks don’t so much detest the federal government as governmental inefficiency, red tape and incompetence. Improve accountability by rank-and-file staff in a dysfunctional civil-service environment and you’ll begin to improve governmental efficiency, maybe even to the level of your hotels and casinos.

- Republican Congressman Bill Flores’ earnest discussion with leaders in our construction, hospitality and high-tech industries regarding their heavy reliance on illegal immigrant labor justifies major reforms that expedite legal immigration and ensure efficient use of work visas for targeted industries. Even Flores’ conservative followers see justice in doing right by the Dreamers. And any wall should be high-tech and virtual. Texans are funny about property rights. They should be respected - even if they have land on the Texas-Mexico line.

- Think twice about breaking your campaign promise to Americans not to touch their Social Security and Medicare, including some chatter about signing whatever House Speaker Paul Ryan sends your way. Our folks labor under the idea they’ve actually paid into federal trusts. We learned this firsthand when we tried to justify the government’s not allotting cost-of-living raises one year. Ouch!

- Championing coal might have won you votes in West Virginia, but in ultra-conservative Central Texas, folks still frown on coal-fired power plants in close proximity. Such sentiments prompted even conservative state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson to inveigh against a proposal to permit nine such power plants within 50 miles of McLennan County a decade ago - his finest hour. Most of us want clean air, clean water.

- Those of us who want the best for Baylor University appreciate the importance of Title IX protections to safeguard students from sexual aggression in all its horrid reforms, some of which have now hobbled this great university. But Republicans are right to be concerned about federal overreach in some of the guidelines, especially when they compromise due-process rights and turn academic settings into courtrooms.

You assure the masses you have not forgotten them. We’ll be watching.

___

El Paso Times. Jan. 21, 2017.

El Paso Independent School District stumbled in its ongoing efforts to rebuild trust when the school board awarded Superintendent Juan Cabrera a $45,499 pay raise.

Cabrera has done a good job as superintendent, helping to rebuild a district shattered by cheating and corruption scandals. The school board also has steered a steady course. Those changes led voters in November to pass a record $669 million bond issue to overhaul EPISD infrastructure.

But the school board’s recent decision to give Cabrera a 15 percent raise has prompted well-deserved backlash from teachers and others who also have played a key role in rebuilding the district.

The huge raise, boosting Cabrera’s base pay to almost $350,000 a year, came with no advance public notice. That’s pretty typical of how Texas school districts have long operated, but EPISD is not a typical district.

In trying to recover from the district’s recent history, the current EPISD board and administration have pursued a higher level of transparency than is typical in school systems. That has been a welcome change.

That higher level of transparency was needed in the decision to give Cabrera a huge raise. The board should have notified the public that it was considering such a raise before approving it. That would have allowed for public debate, which would have been uncomfortable but helpful.

Instead, the board reverted to traditional practice. They evaluated the superintendent in closed session, then came back into public session to approve his large pay raise. The public had no inkling that such a raise was under consideration, so had no input.

That approach may be justifiable in most districts but certainly not in a district slowly rebuilding trust with employees and the public.

The reaction from teacher groups was fierce and predictable. Symbolically, the size of Cabrera’s raise was about the same as a salary for a first-year teacher. EPISD teachers and staff receive lower pay than neighboring districts.

“We are always given the story that there is never enough money,” Norma De La Rosa, president of the El Paso Teachers Association, said the day after the raise was granted. “And to hear last night that they gave him a 15 percent pay raise - my question is, where did they find that money and 15 percent and can’t find money for the teachers in the classroom, custodians and everyone else who works in the district and pay them a livable wage.”

Cabrera, who was hired in 2013, and the school board members, who took office in 2015, deserve much credit for the work they’ve done to refocus EPISD on educating children.

But the work of rebuilding trust with a community betrayed by previous leadership is ongoing and challenging. EPISD leaders must be aware constantly that business as usual doesn’t cut it.

The process used to give the superintendent a sizable raise fell short of what this community needs and deserves. EPISD leaders must do better going forward.

___

The Dallas Morning News. Jan. 23, 2017.

So what’s next?

The recent massive Women’s Marches across the country (and beyond) brought together supporters of diverse political agendas: Women’s reproductive rights. Climate change. Public education. Immigration. Voting and human rights. And that’s just for starters. Added together, it has been called the largest demonstration in American history.

In a nation that seems perpetually divided, getting more than a million people to rally in dozens of cities is no small feat. Even the tea party movement, which had its own Taxpayer March on Washington in 2009 and has been influential ever since, paled in comparison.

How the passion from the Women’s Marches is channeled will determine whether the marchers’ voices will have a lasting impact or become a historical footnote to the early days of the Trump administration. It’s one thing to take issue with the incoming president’s style and policies; focusing that passion into sustained political and social engagement is a quite another. So kudos to freshman state Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, who helped organize the local march and is trying to channel that energy to improve public education and promote equal pay for women in Texas, among other things.

Count us among those who believe that peaceful constructive protests followed up with serious political and community involvement make for a better America. The million-plus people who gathered last weekend showed how protests can be family events and a lesson in how democracy should work.

Already, event organizers have unveiled a “10 Actions for the first 100 Days” campaign to keep those who supported the march focused on activism, with a new project every 10 days. For the first action, they’ve asked participants to write postcards to lawmakers explaining issues that matter most to them, such as health care, LGBTQ rights and immigration. Downloadable versions of the postcards are available online, at womensmarch.com/100.

Want to move beyond writing lawmakers? (Psst … They take phone calls, too.) There are a host of other ways to influence the political process. Start by making sure you’re registered to vote - and helping register others, as well. If that seems like small potatoes, start preparing to run for office yourself.

And it doesn’t all have to be political. Volunteer, to share your passion with those closest to you. It could be as simple as volunteering at your neighborhood school, donating clothes to the nearest shelter, or assisting high school students in filling out financial aid forms. The bottom line is to be an engaged citizen, to show what can be accomplished when you get off the sidelines. And to keep it up.

___

Houston Chronicle. Jan. 24, 2017.

We don’t know when it’ll happen, but sometime soon new recruits to Houston are going to quit being surprised by its diversity, its culture, its food and the startling lack of hitching posts in front of its buildings.

Consider recent transplant Dr. Tom McGillivray, who accepted a job in the Texas Medical Center after seeing Houston for himself. MacGillivray, a recruit from Harvard, told reporter Mike Hixenbaugh that he was pleasantly surprised by the city’s cosmopolitan character.

Houstonians have built a remarkable place, and it’s time once and for all to let everyone know it.

Case in point: In the past decade, Houston’s restaurants secured a spot on every important culinary list. Our city’s next target should be the arts.

We have three home-grown arts directors managing capital investments that are poised to change the visual arts scene as we know it: Allison Weaver of the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University, Rebecca Rabinow of the Menil Collection, and Gary Tinterow of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

The new Moody Center will nurture cross-disciplinary collaboration between the arts, sciences and humanities. The Menil Drawing Institute, opening the first weekend in October, is positioned to become a leading international venue for thinking about the role of drawing - the initial entry point of visual art creativity for most young people - in contemporary culture.

The MFAH has three construction projects at various stages of development: a new home for the Glassell School of Art on Montrose, now under construction; the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building for 20th- and 21st-century art, planned on the parking lot now on Bissonnet; and the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation Center for Conservation, a state-of-the-art conservation center to be built on the roof of an existing parking garage on Bissonnet and Main.

Houston’s progress in the arts rests on many pillars, including a relatively affordable cost of living for contemporary artists, a diverse international population and a variety of nonprofits engaged in a wide range of art-related activities. Private funding - from large corporate and foundation gifts, to attendance fees - has sustained steady growth in our arts community. And then there is the continuing public support out of earmarked taxes on hotels.

In order to fully capitalize on these public and private investments and elevate Houston as an arts destination, the boards and professional staff of arts organizations - large and small - and city and county officials should put their heads together and devise a plan to create greater public awareness of all that is going on in this city in the visual and performing arts.

The MFAH’s Tinterow is right when he observed that increased collaboration “will lift all boats.”

The Super Bowl host committee and various organizations supporting it have shown all that can be achieved when city and county leadership is focused and coordinated. After this national event, Houston First, the Greater Houston Convention and Business Bureau and others that have contributed to the Super Bowl effort should apply lessons learned to highlighting our artistic and cultural offerings.

To understand the magnitude of the city’s potential as an arts destination, consider a fact that Tinterow shared with the editorial board. The MFAH hosted more visitors to its recent Degas exhibit than could fit in NRG stadium at the Super Bowl. Who were those Degas visitors? 85 percent are from Houston and its suburbs, according to Tinterow.

The challenges to greater destination tourism are well-known, but manageable. Houston has always been a city for business travelers, not for the leisure traveler. Hospitality providers ranging from hotels to airlines need to support a range of offerings at prices attractive to leisure travelers.

For decades Houstonians have invested their time and treasure to build a competitive, world-class arts scene. It is now time to reap the benefits by showing it off.

It is great for newcomers to be pleasantly surprised. It will even better if newcomers come to Houston, and our city meets their high expectations.

___

Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Jan. 26, 2017.

Is your neighbor’s tall grass or noisy dog driving you bonkers?

There’s now a mobile app for Arlington residents, Ask Arlington, that can help with that. Euless and Fort Worth have similar apps.

The app is part of Arlington’s five-year plan to lift the burden from the city’s Action Center hotline.

Simple complaints, like reporting a neighbor’s junked vehicle, can be dealt with electronically and without long phone hold times.

People can also send the city a photo of the violation.

Other cities have online reporting forms, and you can always call in the complaint, but distractions can happen between the time you are parking your car and when you sit down at the computer. A mobile app is easier.

Code enforcement helps property values and makes neighborhoods look better. No one likes to be next door to a house with a lawn fit for a haunted house.

This app can help keep Arlington attractive. Other cities should take note.

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