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Guest Commentary

Real life in Iowa more scary than campaign ads

9/10/2014

If you are distressed by political ads and the horror stories and lies about what candidates have done or threaten to do, maybe you should welcome such dismay as a diversion from what’s going on in real life. Here are five real horror stories — not the nonsense of political ads — about what’s going on even as you read this.

In short, it’s “Run for Your Life!” when the news is:

Let’s exempt our own law school grads from the bar exam!

Deep-thinking regents want to do more damage to state universities.

Deep pockets at Iowa State empty those pockets a bit to benefit a Regent.

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The penny-wise/pound-foolish Des Moines school board wants to penny-and-nickel — not even nickel-and-dime — dedicated teachers for flicking electricity on and off in their classrooms.

State government says the answer to traffic deaths is to get families to realize that it may not be safe to take a sharp curve at 80 mph in the dark while drunk and texting.

Those are a few of the summer offerings from people already in power.

To elaborate:

• A state bar association committee wants to exempt Drake and Iowa law grads from the state bar exam, at the risk of turning the law schools into diploma mills for the Iowa legal profession. Getting local law grads to work right away would help them pay off student debts sooner, the logic is — even if they graduate by the skin of their teeth. The Iowa Medical Association may wonder why it didn’t come up with a similar idea to help med school graduates.

• The Iowa Board of Regents wants annual contests to see who among UNI, ISU and Iowa can recruit the most Iowa undergrads — whoever recruits the most gets more money. Never mind that the universities should have different missions when it comes to undergraduate and graduate education, and never mind that such an approach may discourage the brightest of out-of-state students from coming here. (In the cut-throat world of college admissions, the U’s of Minnesota, Illinois and the rest will tell top prospects that Iowa doesn’t want them.) Apparently, Regents want to make sure that no potential national or world leaders from other states are encouraged to attend Iowa schools and later bring credit to the state. It was unclear whether out-of-state students would have been banned from the short-lived plan of the Iowa athletic department to provide free tuition to lucky students for buying tickets to home football games.

• But when it comes to Regents benefitting from the largesse of the universities, that’s another story. ISU and Regents president Bruce Rastetter are again explaining away an apparent conflict of interest in their dealings. This time it’s interest-free loans of $480,000 that an ISU operation gave for installing wind turbines at an agribusiness owned by Rastetter. No conflicts here, everyone says.

• Unaccustomed to dealing in such big numbers when it comes to supporting teachers, the Des Moines school board wants to dun them for portions of pennies of electricity the teachers dare to siphon off to run a coffee pot or such in the classroom. As a Des Moines Register editorial pointed out, many Des Moines teachers already spend their own money on classroom supplies and clothes for needy students. Soon teachers in Des Moines will have to pay maintenance fees for the wear and tear on classroom floors when they walk from student to student.

• You’ve likely seen the commercials for the Zero Traffic Fatalities program that Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad proclaimed July 1. (“If each of us adopts a zero-fatality goal for our own families, we can make zero [traffic deaths] a reality for this state.”) Iowa joined Nevada, Utah and Arizona in efforts to eliminate traffic fatalities by encouraging families to pledge not to kill anyone on state highways. Nevertheless, in July, 32 people were killed on Iowa roads, the worst July since 2011. In August, the count was about 35 — and may increase as reports are forwarded to DOT.

Apparently, some families don’t take Iowa leaders seriously.

Small wonder. CV

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.

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