Good on her word

University of Iowa President Sally Mason stopped by our office late in September for an interview. We pointed out to her that few immigrant students attend a state public university. Many attend Iowa Central Community college. A few study at Buena Vista University. Not so much at Iowa, Iowa State or Northern Iowa. Mason’s response was quick and clear: The University of Iowa is missing an opportunity, and Mason would fix it.

That she did.

We learned last week that the U of I set up a special scholarship account just for disadvantaged students from Storm Lake. A team has been set up to meet with prospective students in Storm Lake, and will work with them on a trip to Iowa City. Mason said each student will receive personal mentoring to make certain the student is successful in college.

Mason did all this within two weeks of meeting with us.

Impressed, that’s where we stand.

She could have given us a song-and-dance about how Iowa values diversity, and makes an important economic contribution to the state. We’ve heard all that before. No, Mason acknowledged that Iowa is not doing enough and would do more in the future.

Maybe it’s because Mason, the daughter of an immigrant, is the first member of her family to attend college. She knows better than anyone how crucial a post-secondary education is in an adult’s life. Sally Mason chooses to make a huge difference in the futures of so many Storm Lake students.

Congratulations also go to the Storm Lake School District for working so hard for so long at steering students toward college.

Storm Lake is becoming a brown community. The base of our population will be the offspring of Latino immigrants, primarily. As we seek to attract young professionals to The City Beautiful — bankers, lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, teachers, social workers — what better way than immigrants who want nothing more than to be close to the families who have given up so much for them?

Iowa Central will prepare vo-tech students for careers in machining, welding and fabrication, or as a low-cost way of getting in the first two years of a bachelor’s degree. Buena Vista University has been recruiting local immigrant students. BVU is not for everyone, just as the U of I is not. But Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa employ an important role in providing relatively low-cost, accessible education for the people of Iowa. They must be involved in helping build Storm Lake, Denison, Marshalltown and other immigrant clusters.

Our gratitude goes to Mason for opening the doors of the University of Iowa to our “dreamers.” Obviously, she is a woman who means what she says.

Branstad plays cool

Don’t look for Gov. Terry Branstad to ram through any proposal to increase revenues for roads. The governor would like to fill a $235 million annual shortfall in road funding brought about by declining use of gasoline and its concomitant taxes. The public always opposes an increase in the gas tax. But all these interest groups keep pushing the governor to expand Hwy. 20, to fix bridges, to add lanes to I-235, pave that road into Havelock, and so on.

The governor’s transportation man, Paul Trombino, has been floating around ideas that aren’t going too far. For example, he proposed taxing off-road fuel use by farmers. DOA with the Farm Bureau. Or raising the tax on vehicle sales. Not cool, says the Iowa Auto Dealers. Stand pat? No way, says the state’s powerful road lobby.

What’s a poor boy to do?

Act nonchalant. Say at your weekly press conference, as Branstad did Monday, that he is content to wait for a consensus to develop. He is sitting back and waiting for it to congeal.

That means he wishes someone else, like Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, would take the lead on increasing the gasoline tax. He might not threaten to veto it, as he has before. Branstad was the last governor to approve a gas tax increase, in 1989, and won re-election thereafter. Branstad reminded reporters that every election is unique. He is not taking chances.

The only real solution is living with what we have in a road system and paring it back some, or to increase the fuel tax on everyone. Farm Bureau supports this idea. It covers the governor’s right flank. Gronstal takes the lead, All flak tends to the left, then. If it all works out, he can be the governor who improved Iowa’s roads.

Patience is a virtue.