Staff Columnist

Iowa Democrats turning away money nobody offered

Democrats running for governor all agree to increase gun control

Anti-NRA signs are passed out during a voter registration rally in Florida on Friday. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Scott McIntyre
Anti-NRA signs are passed out during a voter registration rally in Florida on Friday. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Scott McIntyre

Most of the Democrats running for Iowa governor have proudly promised not to take money from the National Rifle Association. In other news, I am refusing to accept any lucrative political consulting contracts from the Democratic Socialists of America.

It seems swearing off gifts from people who aren’t offering any passes for political courage these days.

Democrat and Libertarian gubernatorial hopefuls participated in a candidate forum hosted by League of Women Voters in Cedar Rapids over the weekend. The wide-ranging policy discussion included remarks about gun policy from all eight candidates.

The six Democrats seeking the governor’s office largely agreed on the need for more restrictive gun laws, though some offered more specific policy proposals than others.

Businessman Fred Hubbell said Iowans have not been able to have a meaningful debate about gun rights because the NRA has interfered.

“Part of the reason is groups like the NRA — outside groups, outside special interests — scaring people in our state away from having this conversation. … Let’s decide as Iowans where do we want to draw that line,” Hubbell said.

Likewise, longtime political operative John Norris said, “This is about the NRA and the gun lobby manufacturing fear and misrepresenting what this argument is about.”

If candidates refuse to take NRA money because it might influence their positions, are they acknowledging all the other money they do accept will sway their policymaking?

The anti-NRA campaign finance pledges demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of how American politics is funded. In reality, outside groups generally give money in hopes of electing people who already agree with them, not to purchase politicians’ opinions.

The NRA’s most valuable asset for political persuasion is not its bankroll, but its politically active membership, which it reports as 5 million nationally.

“I don’t think the NRA gives money to Libertarians, so therefore I can’t accept it. I don’t think they’re going to give it to anyone else here,” Libertarian candidate Jake Porter said during the forum.

Debate over gun rights is dumbed down when either side refuses to engage with the other. The Democrats’ talking points on gun control often lack knowledge about how firearms work.

For example, union leader Cathy Glasson is calling for a ban on “high-powered assault rifles,” which doesn’t refer to any specific firearm styles or functions.

During a meeting last week with Gazette editorial board members, I asked Glasson to clarify which types of firearms she would like to see outlawed. She then suggested banning “military-style” weapons, but that also is not a legal definition of anything.

If politicians were not so stuck on denouncing the NRA, they might be able to engage in conversations which actually strengthen their arguments.

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Thousands of Iowans are active members of the NRA and other pro-firearm organizations. They are not faceless gun industry lobbyists, and they get a say in Iowa politics, even if Democrats running for governor disagree with them.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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