Guest Columnists

Choose meaningful victories over ideological purity

Iowans are waking up to the fact that our recent statehouse elections may prove more impactful than the bitter presidential election.

Voters made Iowa a “Republican trifecta” last November, meaning the party now controls both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. The GOP picked up six seats in the Senate and two in the House. That makes 25 Republican trifectas around the country, compared to just six for Democrats, according to Ballotpedia.

One-party government is a bit out of character for Iowa politics — this is just the fourth legislative session in the past 25 years with one party holding the legislature and the governorship. Usually, Iowa’s legislative process moves slowly — significant legislation on hot-button issues would take multiple years to build enough bipartisan support to clear a split legislature.

This session is different. With unified Republican government, things are moving much more quickly and that has jolted Iowans into action. Inside the statehouse and around Iowa, there are heated debates surrounding divisive issues like abortion, collective bargaining rights, minimum wage, budget priorities, and more. Even though the political unrest may be legitimate, it threatens to drown out some common-sense reforms that could have a real shot if they can compete for attention.

We can expand and extend our narrow medical cannabis program, offering relief and security to thousands of patients. We can rein in civil asset forfeiture, a controversial law enforcement tool for seizing citizens’ property without proof of a crime. And we can promote fair and open elections, by eliminating straight-ticket voting and the tax checkoff program for donating to political parties.

Those are just a few examples of bipartisan solutions lawmakers could advance this year. They all have some Republican supporters in the legislature — a necessary condition for getting anything passed in Des Moines this year — but each would likely need some Democrat votes in order to clear the Statehouse. I hope the Democrats won’t block ideas like these as collateral damage in their fight against other proposals. And I hope the Republicans will make these things a priority, both as good policymaking and as a sign of bipartisan cooperation.

We can avoid a situation like we had with last year’s medical cannabis bill: Every Democrat in the Iowa House voted against a last-minute Republican bill to modestly improve the cannabis program. Democrats claimed they killed the bill because it didn’t go far enough, or because it didn’t comply with federal law. I’m skeptical of that explanation because they supported the 2014 medical cannabis law, even though everyone admitted it didn’t go far enough, and even though all cannabis programs are prohibited by federal law.


I’m a lifelong Republican, but I live and work in the Democrat stronghold of Johnson County, so I’ve had to take some strange bedfellows in my political activism, and I’ve learned the value of incremental progress. My allies and I sometimes refer to an old European proverb, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” It means that striving for purity will obstruct meaningful victories and I think it’s apt for our political situation in Iowa.

In other words, let’s not let the things we don’t agree on get in the way of the things we do.

• Adam Sullivan is a writer, activist, and communications adviser in Iowa City. His column appears on Friday. Comments:;



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