Letter from the Editor

Friday, February 20, 2009

Focus is the name of the game

Legislature, skate park and a really good Iowa Hawkeye joke.

If there is anything at all positive to find in Iowa's current budget crisis, it is the no nonsense approach of the Iowa legislature.

When the cash runs out, it has a way of focusing the legislature to the job at hand - schools, roads, jobs, and this year, flood relief. You will notice that there are very few of those windy social issue debates going on this year. It isn't because members of the statehouse don't want to trot the sticky stuff out - it's because they don't dare return home without making headway on the issue that is on every constituent's mind - the economy.

There is virtually no debate on those same-sex marriages so far - what a change that is. No revisited smoking bad scuffle. Not even the perennial tussle over the death penalty for Iowa.

It isn't that social matters like these aren't valid issues for open discussion. The fact is that no matter how many expensive days our elected officials would choose to waste on them, they simply are not in a state legislature's realm. If they get sorted out, it will be because society does it, not politics. The legislature has never had much luck peeking into bedrooms, mandating morality, dictating behavior, or imposing its own brand of justice. And boy howdy, have they ever tried on all fronts.

More often than not, hefty social issues just derail a legislature for the session and compromise its ability to do the basic things that the public depends on it to do.

The state can talk about same-sex marriages until it is blue in the collective face, and it will have no effect on either homosexuality or hererosexuality. Lawmakers were foolish to allow the issue to be raised in the first place, because frankly, marriage isn't their jurisdition. Now the issue will be tied up in courtrooms and the statehouse until kingdom come, and neither have any real sway over religion or love, the two things that dwarf even the power of our government.

Enough time has been spent on the smoking ban. It would be foolish to waste another year to repeal it, and then another to probably just reinstate it. After we've lived with it a full year, and after we've taken necessary priority action on budget and economy, maybe it will be reasonable to talk adjustments. Get rid of the hypocritical casino exemption. Possibly let bars choose their own fate again, or maybe after a certain hour or if underage people are barred. As for smoking in public places frequented by families or where food is being served, forget about it. It's not 1952 any more, Duke; get on over it.

The death penalty this year is proposed for a very specific, heinous type of crime against children, but as in every other incarnation, it comes down to whether you believe that taking a life is a valid punishment for taking a life. Not to mention that death penalty cases cost a fortune and tie up courts interminably. Or, that murder rates were considerably higher for states with the death penalty as compared to those without in recent years. The legislature will never permenently resolve this debate, so instead, why don't we fully enforce the sentences we have and keep child abusers and other violent criminals behind bars?


One more thought on the legislature. All three of our local elected representatives tell us the same story this session - that they are shut out of meaningful discussion on the economy, given little access to information used to make the decisions, and that budget calls are being made by a very select few behind closed doors.

Granted, our three locals are all dyed-in-the-wool Republicans, at a time when Democrats control the governor's office and majority in each chamber. But Worthan, Kettering and Huseman are as honest as they come, and when we hear the same from all of them, it is likely not just sour grapes.

A majority party will always exert its will, but I can't help but think that our best bet on an issue as critical as the economy is open discussion with input and an opportunity for bipartisan leadership from ALL of our electees.

Just a Democrat solution, or a Republican solution, probably isn't going to cut it this time.

We should be just a bit ticked off if the people we have elected to represent our local counties don't even get a word in on the most important matter of the day. That's not democracy.


The Storm Lake City Council told local skateboarders this week that the city will work to get them the skatepark that was promised several years ago. The young people did a good job of getting organized and taking their case to city hall, and deserve credit. So does the council, for listening. Sometimes change comes in the form of a button-down oxford, and sometimes in a hoodie with an pierced eyebrow. Since that discussion, I've been doing some thinking on where to put such a thing.

I believe the initial discussion was to take out the kiddie park behind the police station. But I can foresee issues with no parking, no sidewalk, homes just feet away. And someday we may need to expand adjacent police and fire facilities.

The Frank Starr Park area comes to mind, but its too far out and too dangerous for kids to access by board or bike.

A couple of thoughts:

The school district may well need to demolish North School when the new elementary is done this year. What is now the play field would be the right size, in a nice central location, with offstreet parking already in place, a playground already there for little bros and sis's.

The high school is close by so people could skate after school instead of getting into trouble, restaurants and stores nearby, and the police station right across the way to keep an eye on things.

If it turns out the site is in demand for housing, there is still plenty of space to use or replace the school building with an apartment complex or other development and split the field area off for the skate park.

Another possibility - the city is moving park maintenance operations to the golf course where new facilities are already in place. There is an aging and unattractive maintenance building left on the lakeshore in Chautauqua Park on a large concrete pad that may need to be removed anyway. If we put the skatepark there, it would nestle in between tennis courts and basketball court to make for quite a recreation park, without losing existing green space. A skate park right on a lake - that should bring people in. And you could have bands play on the court area, as they do for the Fourth of July. Again, there is some offstreet parking, lighting, and nearby playground equipment already in place.

We don't need to reinvent the wheel when we already have sites in public ownership. And we don't need a $600,000 AWAYSIS-style showplace, just a place where kids can skate without getting chased away. If money's short, start small with some basic concrete and add on later.

Just ideas - let's hear from the community.


This was sent in to me, and I couldn't resist sharing it with you. It was posted by a reader on the cyclonefanatic website recently, though I couldn't determine who the original author is.

One foggy night an Iowa fan was heading south and an ISU fan was driving north. While crossing a narrow bridge they hit each other head-on, mangling both cars.

The Cyclone fan manages to climb out of his car and survey the damage. He looks at his twisted car and says, "Man, I'm lucky to be alive".

Likewise, the Hawkeye fan gets out of his car uninjured, he too, feeling fortunate to have survived.

The Hawkeye fan walks over to the Cyclone fan and says, "Hey, man, I think this is a sign that we should put away our petty differences and live as friends instead of being rivals."

The Cyclone fan thinks for a moment and says, "You know, you're absolutely right! We should be friends. In fact, I'm going to see if something else survived the wreck."

The Cyclone fan then pops open the trunk of his car and removes a full undamaged bottle of Jack Daniels. He says to the Hawkeye fan, "I think this is another sign that we should toast to our newfound friendship."

The Hawkeye fan agrees and grabs the bottle. After sucking down half of the bottle, the Hawkeye fan hands the bottle back to the Cyclone fan and says, "Your turn".

The Cyclone fan calmly twists the cap back on the bottle, throws the rest of the bottle over the bridge into the river and says, "Nah, I think I'll just wait for the cops to show up."

In the interest of fair play, the best Cyclone joke I receive - clean please - gets equal billing. If there is such a thing as a BVU joke, hit me with that too. letters@stormlakepilottribune.com.